Thanks for sticking with this series of lessons. Already you know more than most people who are searching for a medical alert system.
- Activation range is different from communications range.
- An advertised range of 1000 feet doesn’t mean you’ll be able to talk to a responder at that distance.
- If you’re looking at the old-fashioned base-station models, think about where the base station will be and where you might get hurt. The bath, outside, in your bedroom. Will you be able to hear and be heard?
Jump to the last lesson: Long-term contracts, return policies, and guarantees
Everyone touts their range figure. The common numbers you see are 600 feet and 1,000 feet.
But very few sites bother to specify what they really mean.
You see, there are two kinds of range. The first is “activation range.” That’s the distance at which the system can be activated by pressing the panic button. Specifically, it’s how far away you can be from the base station, assuming a clear line of sight and no obstructions.
The signal between the panic button and the base station is a simple radio signal. Keep in mind that walls, electronics, and other sources of interference can sharply diminish the stated range.
But for most people 600 or 1,000 feet will be sufficient, even if the signal is diminished by walls and other obstacles. At least inside your house.
When you think about being outside…
well, that’s when we start to understand the other side of the “range” issue. That is the “communications range” of the system. Which means the distance at which you can actually have a conversation with the monitoring center to tell them what’s wrong.
Most companies don’t want to be specific about this, maybe because most systems really don’t measure up that well on this scale.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. If I had a standard base-station style medical alert system in my house, it would be located in the living room where it would have the best chance of picking up sounds from inside much of the house.
But let’s say I’m in my office, which is in a small outbuilding on the other side of the garden. The total distance between me and the base station would be less than 200 feet, so almost any system would be able to activate and call for help. But there’s just about zero chance that I would be able to communicate with anyone who answered the phone.
If you wouldn’t be able to hear a reasonably loud answering machine from where you are, you won’t be able to communicate with the responder.
Even from the bathroom it could be touch. With the door closed and the water running, I can’t hear the phone ring from the living room. Certainly wouldn’t be able to talk and listen with those barriers.
Now, monitoring centers have a plan for what happens if you activate the system but they can’t hear you. Usually they will try to call the house to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm. Then, if you don’t answer, they will most likely call the local emergency responders (police or fire department) and send someone to investigate. But you can easily believe that the response to an unknown alarm is probably going to be more relaxed than one to a known heart attack or life-threatening injury.
If you’re homebound, then the issue of communications range isn’t critical. You’ll always be inside your home and are likely to be in a place where you can make yourself heard. If not, the backup plan will be put into effect.
But if you’re not homebound, the issue of communications range is one you must consider carefully.
Getting around range problems
The way to get around the problem of communications range is to buy a system that contains a built-in speakerphone. That way you are always “in range.”
There are two ways to do this. The first is to buy a system with “talk through the pendant” capability. These are base station units designed for use around the house, except that instead of a panic button that just wakes up the base station, the panic button is actually a small cordless phone.
But before you get excited, know that these systems are hard to find, and are being replaced by mobile medical alerts.
So the second solution is a mobile medical alert or a home/mobile hybrid system (also rare, but there’s at least one decent option).
With a mobile system the button you carry around is the whole system. As long as there’s a decent cell signal, you can press the button and speak with and listed to the monitoring center. This works inside your house (as long as you have signal), outside in the garden, or anywhere around town.
The last important lesson before you start shopping is about long-term contracts, return policies, and guarantees. A lot of people get confused and/or tricked by companies in this area, so it’s an important one.