|COVID-19 Update: Medical Alerts are considered essential devices during the COVID crisis, so monitoring and customer service centers are still open and ready to help. To learn more about how these and other essential products can keep older adults safe and connected during this crisis, take a look at our list of 10 essential products.|
When it comes to living independently as a senior, medical alert systems give you and your family members extra peace of mind. These popular systems are available for in-home use or as mobile units that can be used outside the home. Wearable devices and wall-mounted buttons give seniors an easy way to call for help if they slip and fall or encounter a medical emergency. The alert goes out instantly to a 24-hour call center where trained operators can alert caregivers and dispatch emergency responders as needed.
Choosing a Medical Alert System
Choosing a medical alert system can be complicated. Marketing language makes it seem like every system is the best, but breaking through the clutter takes time. With so many options and various companies to consider, side-by-side comparisons can help you narrow down the best choice for your situation.
We’ve created this guide to give you an at-a-glance comparison of two popular medical alert systems, Philips Lifeline and Life Alert. Both companies have been providing monitoring and alert services to seniors for decades, and both operate U.S.-based call centers.
While these two companies offer plenty of features and reliable response times, when we compare the two systems side-by-side, Philips Lifeline stands out as the clear winner. The no-cost equipment and low-cost monthly plans help keep this system affordable. The required contract terms of Life Alert lock you into a plan for years, while Philips Lifeline offers more flexibility with month-to-month plans.
Check out the table below to quickly compare features, costs and contract terms, or read on to get a more in-depth analysis of these two companies.
|Philips Lifeline||Life Alert|
|Lowest Monthly Price||$29.95||Not published|
|Highest Monthly Price||$64.95||Not published|
|Upfront Costs||$50-$149 one-time fee per device||$95-$98 one-time fee per device
$1 programming fee for some devices
|Long-Term Contract||No||Yes- 3 years required|
|Connection Type||Landline or cellular||Landline or cellular|
|2-Way Voice Capability||Yes, on some devices||Yes, on some devices|
|Fall Detection||Available on some devices||Not available|
|Location Detection on Mobile Devices||GPS||GPS|
|USA-based call center||Yes||Yes|
|Type of device||Wearable pendant or wristband||Wearable pendant and wall mounted button|
Overview of Philips Lifeline
Philips Lifeline is the largest medical alert company in the U.S. and the only one that has official FDA approval. The company offers a variety of different plans, so you can choose from in-home units or mobile wearables depending on your lifestyle. Two popular plans in the Philips Lifeline system are the HomeSafe plan and the GoSafe 2 plan. The wearable device itself was designed by a doctor who specialized in geriatric medicine, and the company automatically replaces your device when the non-rechargeable battery runs down.
The HomeSafe plan offers monitoring in a home environment and comes with a wearable device you can mount on a wrist band or use as a pendant necklace. The base unit has a 500′ range, so you can move between rooms in your home without losing coverage. With the GoSafe 2 plan, you get a wearable mobile unit with the base unit built in, so you can take it with you when you leave home. Some Philips Lifeline plans offer GPS location tracking for accurate identification of your location in case of an emergency. Philips Lifeline also has fall detection as an option on some units. Lockbox units, automatic medicine dispensers that release medicine up to six times a day and voice extension boxes are also available.
When you press the button to sound an alert, a signal goes directly to a call center in the U.S. or Canada. Interpreters are available to translate conversations into 140 languages, so you can communicate in a way that is comfortable for you.
Philips Lifeline Pros:
- U.S.-based company
- Decades of experience
- Doctor-designed wearable device
- Pendant and wrist options for wearable device
- Automatic battery monitoring and replacement
- Simple straightforward pricing
- Fall detection included
- GPS location detection
- Average response time of 11 seconds
- Pendant and wristband options both available
- No long-term contract required
Philips Lifeline Cons:
- No discounts for multiple users
- Only offers a one-year guarantee on equipment
- $50-$149 activation fee
Overview of Life Alert
Around since 1979, Life Alert provides service to over 150,000 seniors nationwide. The popular “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” ad campaigns have permeated into popular culture and made Life Alert one of the most well-known medical alert companies around.
The most basic plan from Life Alert is the In The Home plan, which comes with a base unit and a wearable device that can be used at distances of 800′ to 1,000′ from the base. If you want mobile service, Life Alert offers an add-on plan called the On The Go plan. This plan isn’t available on its own, though. A separate add-on plan designed for bathroom use is also available. The In The Bath plan comes with a wall-mounted button for your bathroom wall. All Life Alert plans require a three-year commitment, so you can’t switch to a different plan if it isn’t working out for you.
When a call comes in to the Life Alert center, operators oversee the emergency response process from start to finish. Your medical records and a list of any prior calls are immediately accessible to call center operators, so they can provide necessary information to medical personnel as needed.
Life Alert Pros:
- U.S.-based company
- Doesn’t outsource call center operations
- Batteries don’t need to be recharged regularly
- Waterproof bathroom HELP button available as an add-on device
- Cost includes in-house setup
- Discount offered if you pay 12 months upfront
- Mobile app offers direct contact with monitoring center without using the wearable button
Life Alert Cons:
- Requires a three year contract
- High one-time fees upon activation
- Doesn’t include fall detection on any plan
- Mobile plans only available as an add-on
- No wristband option, only a pendant
When comparing Philips Lifeline and Life Alert, the simple pricing scheme and available features of Philips Lifeline make it a better choice for most seniors. In particular, the automatic medication dispenser available with the Philips Lifeline system helps seniors better manage their medicine intake.
Life Alert does offer a few special features that stand out, including the bathroom button that gives seniors another option to make calls during or after a bath. This feature might not be necessary if you have a water-resistant wearable device you can use in the shower, and both the Philips Lifeline and Life Alert devices are waterproof for this reason.
Both systems offer in-home and mobile options, but the fact that Life Alert requires you to get the home version before adding the mobile one makes it less versatile for seniors who just want a mobile device that goes anywhere with them. The cost of this forced bundling is also a factor when considering which system is best. Because Philips Lifeline offers more versatility, you can save money by only getting the type of service you need.
In the end, both systems offer quick response times and are easy to use, so either works as a basic medical alert system. The versatility, lower cost and no-contract plans of Philips Lifeline makes this system the one we recommend.