After considering more than 70 medical alert systems, we brought 21 of the best personal emergency response systems (PERS) into the Purch Labs for weeks of exhaustive testing and evaluations. We set out with the goal of finding the best option for ensuring that you or your loved ones have a safety net that extends independence without breaking the bank or trapping you in long-term contracts. With more than 120 hours of testing and 300 hours of research, GreatCall is our pick for best medical alert system.
When you consider a medical alert system, you need to consider the three parts of the system — the medical alert device, the call center and the company. When we set out to review medical alert systems, we knew that our best pick had to excel in each of these three areas. And that's exactly what you get with GreatCall — the Lively Mobile was the best medical alert device in our tests and its call center had the fastest response and the highest call quality. In addition, the company provided exceptional support with the most affordable packages available. In short, you get the best device with the best call center at the best price.
Throughout our testing and evaluations, GreatCall had no input or knowledge of our review. We approached the entire experience as regular customers. We paid for the Ultimate package of the Lively Mobile and set up the accounts in a real name: Frank. As far as GreatCall was concerned, we were someone who needed the peace of mind and independence that comes with the safety net of a medical alert system. (It's important to note that we set up all the medical alert systems in this way because we wanted to avoid the type of preferential treatment that can often spoil the integrity of a review.)
The Technology: Lively Mobile
We tested the GreatCall Lively Mobile – a small two-way mobile device with GPS that goes everywhere you go. Unlike traditional medical alert systems, which are comprised of a base unit and a wireless pendant that have a range typically limited to your home, the Lively Mobile works anywhere there's a Verizon cellular network. When you press the button, it calls the service's 5Star Call Center, but you can also call 911 directly if you hold the button down. That added security measure means you can shave minutes off the actual response time if you're certain you need medical assistance. This is a feature that nearly every medical alert system lacks.
Ease of Use
In our tests, we found that false alerts are common with medical alert systems. It's easy to accidentally hit the button or drop a fall-detection pendant and accidentally activate an emergency to the service's call center. The advantage the GreatCall Lively Mobile has over traditional PERS units is that you can easily tell the operator that it was a false alert, regardless of where you are.
This is a significant concern – if emergency response operators can't hear you, they assume that you need medical assistance and will contact your local 911 responders to send help. This is good news, of course, because it means your loved one will get help even if he or she can't respond to the operator.
But what if your loved one accidentally activates an emergency and is out of the base unit's range to hear the operator trying to communicate with them? I'm sure your loved one doesn't want EMTs showing up at the home without good reason (especially when medical alert services make sure to include clauses in their terms and conditions that put all responsibility for costs incurred from such accidents on the user).
With GreatCall, you don't have to worry about having 911 emergency responders accidentally sent to your home because you'll always know when you've activated an emergency call, and can simply tell the operator it was a false alert.
Pendant Reliability & Distance Tests
Since the Lively Mobile works on a Verizon wireless network, the pendant reliability and distance tests that we performed with other medical alert systems mean very little, as this device works anywhere with a cell signal. So unless your elderly parent is hiking in the backcountry, the pendant reliability and distance is a moot issue because any on-the-go mobile medical alert system is better than any traditional PERS unit on the market. No question about it.
Design & Style
The Lively Mobile is well made. It's smaller, more solidly built and more stylish than the Numera Libris mobile device, which is the most common GPS mobile device offered by most medical alert services in their premium package. It's water resistant, so you can wear it in the shower. We even dipped it under water, and pressed the emergency button. It worked just as well as it did in completely dry conditions.
You can wear the Lively Mobile on a belt clip or a lanyard. We preferred the lanyard, which goes around the neck and places the device over the heart. The lanyard has a magnetic clip that makes it easy to remove, and it won't strangle you if it gets caught on something. But the magnet isn't so weak that it falls off whenever you bend over or turn a little too quickly. In fact, although several pendants had magnetic lanyards, the Lively Mobile's magnetic lanyard was the only one that never accidentally came off.
The Lively Mobile comes with GPS tracking, and we tested this feature to gauge how well it actually works. In every call save for one, GreatCall was able to pinpoint our location. The one time the company failed to pinpoint us, it was still close to our general location – "somewhere near the intersection of Lincoln Ave and 20th Street in Ogden." This was close enough that emergency responders would have had a good idea of where to look. Still, the GPS feature effectively provides an added level of safety because emergency responders won't have to waste time trying to find your exact location.
The only tricky feature with the GreatCall Lively Mobile was the AutoAlert fall detection, which is available only with the premium option. At first, we failed to get it to activate on any falls. We dropped it many times, and from many different heights. Nothing. Then we discovered that we had forgot to activate the feature. Still, it failed to notice falls when dropped. We called the service to see why it wasn't detecting falls when we dropped it from any height. The service assured us that it is engineered to not detect falls from such drops, because people drop things all the time.
Basically, we were forced to simulate actual falls to get it to activate. That's right – we put our bodies on the line for this review. We performed soft falls onto a hard floor and hard falls backward onto a mattress. Only when we actually started falling did it work, though it didn't work on each fall. That said, no fall-detection pendant works 100 percent of the time. Overall, we'd say the AutoAlert fall-detection feature is not too sensitive to cause false alerts, but might be a little too stubborn to recognize actual falls with great accuracy.
The Emergency Response Call Center
During our research of call centers, we came to a simple conclusion – every medical alert company has a highly trained call center. Most medical alert services outsource the call center duties to an independent call center, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as these independent call centers are some of the best in the country. However, we preferred companies that owned and operated their call center, such as GreatCall, because this shows an added weight of responsibility.
We measured the quality of each medical alert system's call center in two ways – call response time and general quality of the calls. Did the operator seem uninterested and bored, or friendly and genuinely concerned? Did the operator communicate effectively? The best call center needs to be quick on the answering board while still offering a calm, but friendly, experience with exceptional communication. With both in mind, GreatCall earned the highest marks for call center quality.
Call Response Time
With a stopwatch, we timed how long every medical alert system took to answer an emergency. In this test, GreatCall put every other service to shame with a blazingly fast average response time of 20.67 seconds. The operators even answered some calls in under 15 seconds. To put this in perspective, the total average response time for all the medical alert systems we tested was 93.43 seconds – about a minute and a half from the moment you hit the emergency button on your pendant to when the operator asks you if you need help. The second-fastest-average response time (LifeFone) was more than twice as slow, at a little over 44 seconds.
If this test were the Wild West, and answering the phone were like a fast draw shootout, GreatCall would blow away the competition before they even thought of reaching for the answer button. This speed matters, as every second is crucial in an emergency. Just imagine how critical those seconds can be if your loved one has had a heart attack or stroke.
While we're not entirely sure why GreatCall's response time is so fast, we suspect it's because it is one of the few medical alert services that own and operate its own call center. Since its call center deals only with medical alert emergencies, it doesn't have to deal with computer systems that prioritize emergency calls in competition with security system emergencies.
Call Center Evaluation
GreatCall's call center also received the highest marks in our evaluation. Every call was answered by an operator who was cheerful and easy to understand. With some of the call centers we talked to, the operators sounded painfully bored and uninterested in our well-being. Imagine having experienced a fall, breaking your hip, and having an operator answer your emergency in a monotonous, bored voice that sounds not unlike someone taking your order at a drive-thru – reading a script from a teleprompter. With GreatCall, we never experienced any calls like this.
In addition, the operators all had non-regional accents. With some call centers, we got operators with foreign accents and some with strong Southern accents. While these calls didn't necessarily lack in quality, accents can be problematic over the limited bandwidth of standard phone calls. When you combine this with poor speakerphones and age-related hearing loss, a flat non-regional accent is important for effective communication. None of the calls we had with GreatCall's operators resulted in either side of the conversation asking, "Can you repeat that?"
The Medical Alert Company
Most medical alert companies are little more than clones of each other – same technology, same call center, different brand name slapped on your bill. They don’t develop and improve the technology or the call centers. The only difference between these companies is how they structure their packages, prices and marketing.
To evaluate the company part of the medical alert system, we evaluated their pricing structure, terms and conditions, customer service and overall approach to sales. While GreatCall impressed us with a great product, it also impressed us as being one of the few medical alert services in the industry with an eye on the future. In addition to the Lively Mobile, the company has fitness trackers and smartphones designed for seniors. All of their products come with emergency response features.
And they do this while being the most affordable medical alert service on the market.
The Lively Mobile has three packages – Basic, Preferred and Ultimate. This is similar to other medical alert services, which usually have three packages. However, while other services reserve the On-the-Go GPS unit for the highest tier, the Lively Mobile is the same device in each of the packages. The only difference in these packages is the included features.
Editors' Note 4/4/18: We've updated this section to reflect new monthly pricing from GreatCall.
At $24.99, the basic package is the most affordable medical alert system on the market. The only service that comes close is RescueTouch, which offers the 911 caller for the same price, but that device only calls 911. The average month-to-month cost of a basic medical alert package, which usually requires a landline phone connection, is $30. With GreatCall, you’re getting a product and a service with a very high value at $5 less per month than most landline medical alert systems.
The Preferred package is $29.99 a month. It includes an Urgent Care feature that provides 24/7 access to registered nurses and doctors that can help with non-emergencies, and even prescribe medications over the phone. The Preferred package also allows you to connect to the GreatCall Link – a smartphone app that allows caretakers and family members to easily check up on and track your loved one with the Lively Mobile device. The app alerts family members when an emergency call has been made, and even allows you to monitor the battery level of the device so you can make sure your elderly parent is charging it every night.
The Ultimate package, which is the most apples-to-apples comparison to the most expensive package offered by other medical alert services, costs $39.99 and includes fall detection and product replacement.
It's worth noting that the Lively Mobile does come with a one-time $45 fee, which effectively purchases the device, and a $35 activation fee. Still, even when you consider these one-time costs, this service is still the most affordable medical alert system on the market.
Customer Service, Sales & Support
Throughout our evaluations, we never had any significantly negative experiences with any of the company's customer service. That's important to point out. Every PERS company has professional support teams. However, we also considered the available support on the website – a good company provides ample resources. We looked for support numbers. We submitted support tickets with questions. We looked at how comprehensive the FAQs pages were, and how much information was available about their product and service.
GreatCall doesn’t disappoint in these regards. The website is designed for providing information about the products rather than trying to funnel you into a sales call. An example of how willing the company is at providing information is the FAQs page, which answers 383 questions. For comparison, quite a few companies we reviewed don't have FAQs pages, and the ones that do average only about 26 FAQs.
The Final Verdict
If you’re concerned about your safety or the safety of a loved one, GreatCall is the clear choice. This company is the future of the medical alert system industry. Not only do they provide the fastest call response time and an excellent call center experience, but you'll pay less per month. The logic is simple – best product, best service, best price.