911 logoLivewell On No-Monthly-Fee Medical Alert Systems: Good Sense or Nonsense?

There is an ongoing debate concerning a fairly new entrant to the medical alert system industry: no-monthly-fee medical alert system. These devices generate calls directly to a predefined number: a caregiver, 911, neighbor, or other party without contacting a call center.

Why is it so controversial?

Supporters of the no-monthly-fee device claim that their competitors are only concerned with making money and charging their customers a monthly fee. They emphasize that traditional medical alert companies make their living by providing these monthly services and collecting monthly fees, which can range from $15 – $50.

At Livewell we argue that these devices pose a safety risk to those they are intended to help. No matter which side of the argument you are on, you cannot argue with the fact that, in many states, these devices are illegal.

Let’s consider the following scenarios. In Scenario 1, Client A is using a Livewell Medical Alert device that calls their monitoring center when activated. In Scenario 2, Client A is using a no-monthly-fee Medical Alert device that has been preprogrammed to call her neighbor, then her daughter, and finally 911.

Example 1: Client A is stuck in her chair.

In Scenario 1, Livewell gets a signal from Client A’s Medical Alert system and immediately tries to contact Client A over the unit. Client A tells Livewell about her situation, and Livewell is able to respond appropriately. In this case, there is no need for medical assistance… there is simply a need to help Client A out of her chair. Livewell then locates an appropriate person to help Client A out of her chair.

In Scenario 2, the no-monthly-fee medical alert device automatically calls the three numbers. If Client A’s neighbor and daughter aren’t available, the device automatically calls 911. EMTs rush to the scene, thinking that there is an immediate medical emergency. Hopefully, the door is unlocked… otherwise, the EMTs will knock down the door to find Client A sitting in her recliner.

Example 2: Client A loses power at her home.

In Scenario 1, Livewell calls Client A who is on oxygen to ensure her health and well being. She states that she is not hurt but would like someone to check on her in an hour to confirm that her power has been restored before her oxygen tank has depleted. Livewell calls back in an hour to check on her and to make sure that she is still okay. However, at this time, the power is still out. Livewell then calls Client A’s daughter in order to get her assistance.

In Scenario 2, nothing happens… the no-monthly-fee Medical Alert doesn’t call anyone when the power goes out. Nobody knows, beyond Client A, that the power is out, and she doesn’t get a reassuring call to make sure she is okay. Most importantly, no one knows that they should call her in order to get an updated status on her power outage and her oxygen tank levels.

You get the point. You might think that these are crazy scenarios… but they are not. They happen everyday.

Illegal in many places.

Last but not least, no-monthly-fee Medical Alert devices are illegal in many places, according to the US Department of Justice. In fact, “several states and parts of Canada prohibit automatic 911 dialing.” A simple Google search brings up many examples:

• State of GA – Access to a 911 system by any type of automatic dialing alarm system is prohibited.

• Chico County, California 5R.40.070 Automatic dialing – Live answering service required. Any automatic telephonic dialing system registering any form of alarm shall dial to, and the message shall be received by, a live, twenty-four hour answering service.

• Durham, North Carolina – As of January 1, 2006, it will also be unlawful for any residence or business to have an automatic alarm transmitting directly to 911…Any business or residence currently using such an automatic dialing device will be required to disconnect that system. After January 1, DECC will not respond to any alarm unless it first goes through a monitoring service.

Whether you want to take care of yourself or your loved one, at Livewell we think the old cliché is true. You get what you pay for. A no-monthly-fee Medical Alert is illegal in many parts of the United Sates and can put it’s user at risk of not obtaining the assistance needed.

1. US Department of Justice, Office of Community Policies, Problem Oriented Guides for Police Specific Problems, No. 19. “Misuse and Abuse of 911”, Rana Sampson, August 2004.
2. Georgia Emergency Management Agency. “911 Telephone Number Plan”, pg. 15.
3. Chico Municipal Code, 5R.40.070 Automatic dialing
4. http://www.ci.durham.nc.us/news/NewsDisplay.cfm?vNewsID=980