Pros / The overall call quality of the emergency responders received a B+ grade.
Cons / The call response time received a D- grade.
Verdict / LifeFone's emergency response performance was mostly very good, save for a poor call response speed. The mobile system has a terrible speaker but the in-home system sounds very clear.
Started in 1976, LifeFone is among the oldest and longest running medical alert services on the market. The service offers four packages – an in-home landline, in-home cellular, a combo of in-home and mobile system and a mobile GPS medical alert system. The pricing structure of these medical alert systems are little on the expensive side, though they are a lot more competitively priced if you pay annually. In my tests, the systems didn't stand out as top performers and the emergency response performance suffered greatly from a slow call response time.
LifeFone has two mobile GPS systems. One is a combo package containing MobileHelp's in-home cellular system and MobileHelp's mobile system, the Solo. It's not uncommon for medical alert services to use MobileHelp's systems. This combo package costs $39.95 per month. The other mobile package features the Numera Libris mobile GPS medical alert device, and is priced at about $47 per month. For comparison, the average mobile medical alert system costs about $38 per month. So, while the combo package is more in line with the market average, it still not competitive with GreatCall's $25 per month mobile alert system.
The in-home system starts at about $30 per month for the landline system and $35 per month for the cellular option. Both packages are a few dollars over the market average. However, LifeFone does offer significant savings if you pay annually, saving you between $4 and $5 per month.
In the call response test, LifeFone did not perform well, receiving a D- grade. Most services I tested were generally consistent in their call response times, varying little from call to call, but LifeFone was all over. Some calls were answered in 30 seconds, a very respectable response time. But some calls were answered after two minutes and one call was answered after almost three minutes.
On a positive note, the call-in-progress quality of the mobile alert system was very good. When you press the help button on the mobile device, you're met with a calming female voice saying, "Calling your response team now." She then instructs you to hold the device close to your mouth and even provides instructions for cancelling the call. Despite that, I tried cancelling a call following the instructions and it didn't work.
The emergency response operators were also very good, receiving a B+ for overall call quality. While the general tone of the operators could have been better, they always confirmed my name and address, and even asked for my name twice – an excellent security measure. The operators asked if I was okay at least once and sometimes twice. In addition, they always told me when they were disconnecting the call.
The speaker quality of the mobile alert system, the Numera Libris, is not good and received a C- for quality. There is a significant amount of distortion, enough to interfere with the communication with emergency responders. And this issue wasn't limited to LifeFone. Alert1 uses the same exact mobile device and both sounded like a fast-food kiosk. It doesn't make for good communication with operators when you have to repeatedly ask them to repeat themselves. It does not bode well for seniors with age-related hearing loss.
The in-home system sounded much better. The speaker received an A for quality. The voice came through much more clearly than the mobile device. However, the maximum volume of the in-home system received a C+ because it only averaged 81 dB. By comparison, the average in-home system I tested maxed out at 88 dB with some averaging 91 dB. This is a significant difference in volume. With in-home systems, the volume needs to reach every corner of the home or apartment and 81 dB simply isn't enough to achieve this.
LifeFone's been around longer than most medical alert services, but the pricing structure doesn't stand out from the top services and the systems included in each package are unimpressive. The mobile device has a subpar speaker and the in-home system isn't loud enough. However, the most disappointing aspect of LifeFone was the inconsistent and sometimes very slow call response times.