The best medical alert systems are mobile GPS systems because these allow your loved one to communicate with the emergency responder wherever they need help, whether it’s in the basement or at the park.
We’ve been experts on GPS medical alert systems at Top Ten Reviews for ten years. In addition to developing comprehensive tests to gauge and compare the quality of each medical alert service, we’ve written articles and guides on a variety of senior care topics, like fall prevention tips, dementia behavior management, geriatric depression, social isolation in seniors, caretaker tips and more. We’ve devoted hundreds of hours to research, testing and evaluating senior care technology.
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Our priority when reviewing senior-care technology is to look at how the features and performance help the senior age-in-place with greater independence and a higher quality of life. Secondly, we prioritize features aimed at helping caretakers in meeting that objective.
Why choose a mobile GPS Medical Alert System?
If you want the best medical alert system, you need to choose a mobile GPS system. Here are several reasons why:
Affordable: While the average mobile medical alert system still costs about $15 to $20 more per month than the landline-based in-home systems, some services have mobiles systems starting at $25 and $30. These are cheaper than the average in-home system. Considering the other advantages of a mobile system, there’s no reason to go with the landline system just because it’s cheaper.
Range: In-home systems have a limited range. Most allow you to roam well enough around your home and maybe even into your yard, but a mobile system’s range is limited only by the cellular network. In most areas of the U.S., the cellular network covers most residential areas very well.
Communication: With an in-home system, if you fall in the basement and the base system is on the first floor, you’re going to struggle to communicate with emergency responders. It doesn’t matter how sensitive the microphones are on the base station or how loud the speaker is. If you accidentally hit the help button when you’re in the backyard, you probably won’t know it. With a mobile system, you speak to the emergency operators from the device. It’s just like talking on a cell phone. It makes for easier communication, which is especially important for cancelling false alerts.
Cancelling False Alerts: False alerts happen frequently. I know from first hand experience just how easily it is to accidentally press the help button or activate the fall detection sensor. So imagine this scenario - your elderly mother has an in-home system and is wearing a fall-detection pendant around her neck. While she’s in the garden tending to the weeds, she accidentally activates the fall detection. However, because there is no sound from the pendant and she’s outside and unable to hear the emergency operator from the base station, the operator assumes she needs help and sends an ambulance to her home. She won’t know of the accident until an ambulance roars up her street and onto her driveway.
Best GPS medical alert system overall
While Medical Guardian’s emergency response speed wasn’t the fastest on average, it was tied for second fastest. But more to the point - the quality of the calls with the emergency responders is what makes Medical Guardian the service with the best emergency response experience. In three weeks of testing, I didn’t have a single negative call. Each responder spoke slowly and with a calm, positive demeanor. They always made sure to confirm my information on each call and always indicated when they were ended the call while encouraging me to press the help button if I needed to - a small detail, but one you shouldn’t overlook, as seniors need this type of positive reinforcement. Many seniors won’t press the help button out of sheer anxiety over asking for help. And Medical Guardan’s emergency responders do a great job of alleviating this anxiety.
Medical Guardian has three mobile GPS medical alert systems: the Mobile Guardian ($39.95 per month), the Active Guardian ($49.95 per month), and the Freedom Guardian ($44.95 per month). We tested the Active Guardian, which includes fall detection, and the Freedom Guardian, a medical alert smartwatch. The Active Guardian’s speaker is good, though not elite and the fall detection is not effective.
The Active Guardian, received a B+ grade for speak quality and had one of the best call-in-progress experiences in the test. There’s never a time when you’re unsure whether it’s calling for help, which seems like a feature you shouldn’t have to worry about, but many of the mobile devices we tested were not good at indicating the call’s progress. The Freedom Guardian was one of the first medical alert smartwatches to hit the market and is an excellent, discreet option for seniors who don’t want to wear an obvious mobile GPS device.
Fastest response time
When it comes to emergency response speed, speaker quality and affordability, the GreatCall Lively Mobile is the best GPS medical alert system. The average call response time over three weeks of testing was twice as fast as the second fastest services. It averaged just 14 seconds from the moment I pressed the help button to the moment an operator asked if I needed help. That is very impressive when you consider some services averaged several minutes.
In addition, with mobile systems starting at about $25 per month, the cost is cheaper than most in-home landline systems. For just $5 more per month, you get access to 24/7 nurses and board-certified doctors and compatibility with the GreatCall Link app, which helps caregivers stay informed.
As a device, the Lively Mobile wasn’t very loud, but it doesn’t need to be because you can always put it closer to your ear. However, the quality of the speaker was better than other mobile medical alert systems I tested, likely due to the speaker not clipping from being too loud. Either way, the calls lacked distortion and provided the clearest communication with emergency responders.
However, the quality of the interactions with the emergency responders felt rushed compared to other services. The calls weren’t terrible by any means, but most operators didn’t confirm my information and only once did an operator confirm my location by reading the GPS. As soon as I mentioned it was a test or that I accidentally pressed the help button, the operators usually just thanked me and disconnected the call. Of course, much of the rushed calls were explained away by needing to keep the line open for real emergencies, which is justifiable when your response speed is twice as fast as other services.
Medical Alert was among the best performing services, and the pricing is very competitive for each package. While GreatCall is the better option, Medical Alert is my value pick because it combines good performance with the lowest priced systems on the market. For starters, the GPS mobile system costs as low as $32 per month (if paid annually) and the in-home system costs $20 per month, which is the cheapest medical alert system on the market. Even if you pay month-to-month, at $37 per month, the On-the-Go package is one of the most affordable GPS mobile systems, though still not comparable to GreatCall.
The mobile device is significantly larger than most GPS mobile medical alert systems, but the speaker quality is excellent. And the voice guidance system is very helpful, as it features a calming, natural voice to let you know you’ve activated a call and continues to tell you the call is in progress until answered.
Medical Alert also had one of the fastest emergency response speeds, earning an A- grade with a 28 second average over three weeks. This was good enough to tie for second fastest in our test. Despite the fast speed, it was still twice as slow as the fastest call response speed.
Best for tech-adept seniors
The MobileHelp GPS device, the Solo, costs $37.95 per month, which is more affordable than most mobile systems by a few dollars. However, the MobileHelp Smart costs just $25 per month, though it does have a $350 one-time cost because you’re purchasing the smartwatch.
Unfortunately, in my tests, MobileHelp's average call response time over three weeks was disappointing, receiving a C grade. It wasn’t the slowest service at answering calls for help, but it was far from being the fastest, averaging nearly a minute. Fortunately, the quality of the call center operators and the quality of the call-in-progress was excellent.
Best fall detection
Since fall detection is an add-on to a medical alert system, you shouldn’t base your decision on the fall detection performance. The technology is too inconsistent. However, BlueStar SeniorTech’s fall detection performance was the best in our test. While it was still too sensitive and caused false alerts, it was less sensitive than other fall detection sensors we tested. (That said, it doesn’t compare to the fall detection feature on the Apple Watch 4, which is worth looking into if you’re concerned about fall detection sensors.)
BlueStar’s pricing structure is competitive, with the Ranger costing $35 per month. This is only $5 more than the average landline system. Still, it’s $10 more expensive than the cheapest GPS medical alert system on the market (GreatCall).
Unfortunately, BlueStar SeniorTech failed to impress in the emergency response tests. The average emergency response speed was over a minute and a half. By comparison, the fastest emergency response service averaged 14 seconds. In fact, we had several calls go for over five minutes before being answered. In addition, the quality of the calls was poor. The mobile system made no indication that a call had been placed, which resulted in me thinking the call had been dropped on several of those five minute call response speeds.
Why Trust Us
Prior to testing, I consulted with Scott Lepper, an EMT and CEO of RescueTouch, and asked him whether such scenarios were a real concern and he confirmed it. From his experience as an EMT, he added that when situations like this occur, "there's a high probability that the patient will be convinced to take a bumpy ride to the emergency department even if they don't need to go." The purpose of these protocols is to protect the EMTs and the hospital from any liabilities. Still, the entire event makes for "unnecessary attention from neighbors, a night in the (emergency room) for mom, and hospital and ambulance bills."
In fact, I learned just how embarrassing and stressful this situation is when it happened to me twice during the course of testing. On both occasions, one of the mobile medical alert systems failed to connect with the emergency response center. And as such, the local hospital sent ambulances to our address. Fortunately, I was spared a trip in the ambulance and an expensive bill, but it was still an embarrassing event.
How much do Mobile GPS Medical Alert Systems cost?
The prices for the packages is what separated the best 10 medical alert systems from the top 20 services on the market. Most seniors have a very fixed budget, so pricing and the flexibility to cancel any time is important. On average, the basic landline systems cost about $28 per month and the mobile systems cost about $38 per month. Most services offer additional savings if you make annual, semi-annual or quarterly payments. These can lower the monthly cost by up to $5 per month, but typically only lower the cost by $2 per month.
How we found the best GPS medical alert system
The mobile systems were tested for three weeks alongside the in-home systems and fall detection sensors as a holistic view of each services performance in each category. Below is a short summary of those tests.
Call Response Time: Since every second counts in an emergency, I used a stopwatch to time how long it took the emergency responder to answer the call. I started the stopwatch when I pressed the help button and stopped it when the moment the operator asked if I needed help.
The best response time, put up by GreatCall, averaged about 14 seconds. Other systems averaged over 91 seconds with some calls last over five minutes.
Emergency Response Quality: Each call was also evaluated for both the call-in-progress performance and emergency responder’s performance.
System Quality: I measured the volume of the mobile systems speaker and evaluated the quality of the communication, listening for distortions and other noise making it difficult to understand the operators.
Additional services & products to consider
Medical Alert Smartwatch: So far, only MobileHelp and Medical Guardian have released medical alert smartwatches. We tested and reviewed both, in addition to comparing them to other smartwatch options, like the Apple Watch 4 and the Samsung smartwatches.
These smartwatches provide the benefits of mobile GPS with the added qualities and functionality of smartwatches. In addition, the discrete nature of these smartwatches makes them ideal for the senior loved one who doesn’t want to wear a medical alert device.
That said, medical alert smartwatches do require some technical ability. While the MobileHelp Smart is far more versatile and complicated than the Freedom Guardian’s simpler design, both are not as simple as pressing a help button. However, if your aging loved one is used to a smartphone, they should find the learning curve easy to overcome.
Fall Detection Add-On: Most mobile systems either come with fall detection or you have to pay extra to activate the fall detection feature. And since a quarter of seniors fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it seems like a good idea to pay the extra $5 to $10 per month for a fall detection sensor. But should you?
I don’t recommend fall detection sensor add-ons for most systems for one simple reason - they are either too sensitive or too dull. Further, there’s no way of cancelling the call for help when it accidentally detects a fall. If it’s too sensitive, it causes too many false alerts, which will likely result in your loved one refusing to wear it. But if it’s too dull and doesn’t detect falls, then it’s unlikely to work when it needs to work.
The only fall detection sensor I’ve tested capable of accurately detecting falls without being too sensitive is the Apple Watch 4.
Caretaker Tracking Apps: Caretakers need as much help as they can get, whether you’re a family member or a hospice nurse. If you’re either, look at the caretaker apps included with mobile systems. These can provide you with activity alerts, emergency alerts, geo-fencing to track their movements and more. It also makes it much easier to find an elderly loved one with dementia if they’ve wandered off.
Medication Reminder & Check-In Service: Remembering when to take your medication is just as dangerous as forgetting you took your medication and taking them again. As such, some services offer medication reminders at an additional cost. You can also purchase medication dispensers from some services.
Similarly, you can pay for a check-in service with some services. With this, the operators call the elderly person every day or every week to check in on them and their well-being. Both services cost an addition $4 to $5 per month on top of your medical alert system.
Taking care of your health is easier when you have technology on your side, which is why we have rounded up the best medical alert systems to help keep you safe, as well as the best medical alert bracelets and the best fall detection sensors. Monitoring your general health is important too, which is why we'd recommend adding one of the best digital thermometers to your First Aid kid for those times when you think you may have a fever and need to take a temperature reading.