How We Rate Providers
At the top of our reviews, you'll notice a star rating for the provider out of five. So, how exactly did we come up with those ratings? As we test out a provider's products, we evaluate them for the seven criteria listed below.
- Price: Are the provider's prices reasonable, and do they offer various options for older adults on different budgets?
- Value: Does the price match up with the value the product offers?
- Response time: How fast is the provider's average response time?
- Ease of use: Is the system easy to use? Are the buttons and functions intuitive?
- Customer service experience: Is customer service friendly, patient, and helpful? Do they have fast response times?
- Equipment: Is the provider's equipment high-quality, durable, and reliable?
- Features and technology: Does the provider offer any unique or high-tech features for seniors? Are the features useful, and is the technology reliable?
After we've thoroughly evaluated each category, we give a “mini” star rating to each. From there, we average out the seven mini star ratings to produce the overall rating of the medical alert provider.
Our Testing Process for Medical Alert Systems
We take every medical alert system that we review for a test drive to give you the most accurate and in-depth look at the product. During our testing, we enlist the help of seniors to try out the medical alert systems as well. These products are designed for them, after all! We ask older adults to try out the system for a week, take some notes, and give us their honest feedback about the system. Big thank-you to all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other seniors who have helped us test out these systems over the years!
Below, we'll take you through our testing process and what it entails.
The Buying Experience
Before we even get our hands on a medical alert system, we go through the buying process to get a better feel for the provider and their customer service team. We evaluate two parts: the website purchase and the customer service.
- Website purchase: As we peruse the website, we check for how easy it is to get information, find pricing, and make a purchase. The best providers make the process simple and intuitive, and they clearly label all prices and additional fees. We're all about transparency!
- Customer service: We take some time to chat with customer service representatives over the phone and/or via online chat. We ask questions about the products, current deals, and anything we're unsure about. We're looking for fast responses and friendly, knowledgeable, and patient representatives.
Unboxing and Setup
When we receive a medical alert system in the mail, we first check to see if everything in the box comes as advertised on the website. Then, we get into the setup process. During setup, we're looking for clear instructions and simple, quick steps to get going. We also make note of any hiccups or technical difficulties along the way.
Watch the video below to see SeniorLiving.org's Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Hoyt, walk viewers through the setup process for Alexa Together, Amazon's remote caregiving service.
Features and Equipment Quality
From wearables to base stations to add-on accessories, we try out every feature, button, and function. As we go, we consider these aspects:
- Equipment material and durability
- Comfort, design, and weight of wearable accessories
- Easy, intuitive functions and legibility
- Function and range of volume
- Unique features that distinguish this system from others we've tested
We believe the most important aspect of a medical alert system is the quality and responsiveness of the company's response center. After a fall or during a medical emergency, every second counts. It's essential that medical alert systems have fast response times, getting users the help they need straightaway. We look for a few things when making calls to a company's response center:
It's important that your system has a strong signal when you make a call, so there aren't any issues getting connected to help. As we make test calls, we're checking to see if the call is clear and the signal is strong.
When testing out a system, we make multiple calls to the response center every day for a week. We time every call for how long it takes to connect to a response agent, average the response time, and compare it to the industry standard (15 to 45 seconds) and the average response times of competitors. We also look for consistency in response times, which is almost as important as speed. If it takes you two minutes to get connected to help one day and 10 seconds the next, you won't know what to expect in an emergency.
Quality of Response Agents
Every time we make a test call, we take notes about our experience. It's important that agents are helpful, efficient, and calm during a call. We check for the following in agent responses:
- Friendliness and patience
- Safety and security (for example, do they ask to confirm identity?)
- Helpfulness and expertise about our situation
- Thoroughness in addressing concerns
Although fall detection isn't 100 percent accurate for any provider, it is important to evaluate its accuracy. We test out a system's fall detection pendant by simulating a fall, noting whether or not the system detects it, and timing how long it takes to connect to an emergency operator. We repeat this several times throughout the testing process and average the response times and accuracy.
More and more medical alert providers have developed mobile apps to go with their medical alert systems in recent years. These apps have useful features like activity and location tracking, emergency call histories, and messaging for caregivers and family members. When testing out a mobile app, we're looking for a simple and intuitive design, useful features, and timely updates. Our favorite apps let you track the user's activity and system status in real time.
Comparing Them to the Competition
After we've gone through the whole testing process, we pull out our notes from previous tests of competitors' products. We compare our experiences with various companies to see how the system stacks up to the competition. Where does this system really shine, and in what areas could it improve? What are some similar products on the market, and how do they compare in terms of price and value?