In an emergency, the device dials a series of numbers you have already programmed into the unit. It dials them one at a time and waits for an answer. For example, it can first dial your son. If he doesn’t answer, it dials your daughter. If she doesn’t answer it dials your neighbor, and then finally it dials 911.
The no-fee medical alert device consists of two parts:
- A “panic button” that you wear on your wrist, around your neck or clipped to your belt. The panic button activates the base station. The better panic buttons, like the LogicMark Freedom Alert (affiliate link) are actually two-way speakerphones that let you have a conversation through them.
- A base station that is plugged into a wall outlet for power and is connected to your phone line. The base station is what automatically dials your phone. In some lower-end units the base station operates as the speakerphone, which means you have to be close enough to the unit to be heard by the person on the other end. Not recommended! This setup works okay for monitored medical alerts, but leaves you vulnerable with a no-fee alert.
How is a no-fee medical alert different from a monitored medical alert?
The big difference is that there’s no monitoring center involved. This lowers your cost (no monthly fees to pay for this kind of medical alert). But it also changes the kind of protection you get. With a monitored medical alert system you can always count on having a trained professional on the other end of the line. With a no-fee medical alert your response is only as good as the person you have chosen to call, and which person is available to answer the call.
Some people worry that with a monitored medical alert system the monitoring company will send an ambulance with every use of the system. This isn’t true. In fact, a monitoring center can just call your neighbor or a friend if what you need help for is not a medical emergency that requires an ambulance.
Are there different kinds of no-fee medical alert devices?
Yes. There are big difference between the various models you can purchase.
Obviously price is a big one. You can find units in all price ranges. Unfortunately, the less expensive ones tend to have design flaws or unacceptable tradeoffs. (For example, they depend on you being in range of a speakerphone. Fail!)
The next biggest difference is range. Some units allow you to press the button 600 feet away from the base station and still have it work. Other units limit you to approximately 50 feet. That’s not very effective. Unless you live in a tiny apartment, units with more range make a lot more sense.
Another difference is the number of phone numbers you can program, and whether or not they only dial 911. Some no-fee alerts are designed only to dial 911 to summon help in a true emergency. There are pros and cons to this kind of system. Most systems that allow you to program numbers give you 4 or 5 numbers to program, which should be sufficient for most people.
The next difference is two-way conversation functionality. Some low-end units are only autodialers. They do not allow you to have a two way conversation between the person who needs help and the person who received the call. Instead they just announce that the person needs help with a pre-recorded message. (This is not acceptable.)
Most medical alert base stations allow a two-way conversation, but you have to be close enough to the base station for your voice to be heard. Depending on the size and arrangement of your house, this might or might not be a problem.
Some of the best systems actually allow you to talk through the pendant, so you can be farther than speaking distance from the base station. In these cases, the pendant is actually a small cordless phone.
Do I recommend no fee medical alerts?
These kinds of systems are right for some people, but not for others.
In general, I advise people to choose a monitored medical alert if they can afford it (and for many people it’s easier to pay $20 – $30 a month than it is to pay all at once for a no-fee alert). If $20 is your price range, your best bet is the Lively from GreatCall (affiliate link). For standard medical alerts in the $30 range, jump to Medical Guardian (affiliate link).
Generally I suspect you’ll get a faster, better response through a monitoring center than by calling family and friends who might or might not be available.
That said, there are circumstances where one of these devices will work great. For example, on my testimonials page I have a comment from someone who bought a LogicMark Freedom Alert (affiliate link) unit for his mom to wear inside her assisted living facility. It doesn’t make sense for her to call an outside monitoring service when there are trained eldercare providers in the building, so she has it set to dial the front desk. It’s perfect for her if she takes a fall inside her apartment and can’t reach the phone or her hard-wired emergency cord.
If a no-fee medical alert is right for you, jump to my page on the best no-fee medical alert systems.
If you think a no-fee alert isn’t what you need, learn about monitored medical alerts.