Medical-Alert Devices All But Bashed for Multiple Deficiencies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent evaluation published in the Washington Post put personal emergency response systems (PERS) to the test and the results didn’t exactly amount to a resounding endorsement. In fact, overall the test results were pretty dreadful in some performance areas.

An assessment of 11 medical-alert devices was conducted by Consumers’ Checkbook, a print publication and online resource published by the Center for the Study of Services, an independent, nonprofit consumer organization.

The Arlington County (Va.) Emergency Communications Center served as a neutral testing site for the evaluation. All told, nine devices with professional call-center monitoring were tested, along with two unmonitored systems that hail friends and family when a button is pushed. Each monitored device was tested 30 times over a two-week period.

Consumers’ Checkbook estimates more than 3 million (mostly senior) consumers own medical-alert devices, such as panic buttons worn on the wrist or a pendant. You can review a table that shows overall performance of the nine monitored devices evaluated in the Washington Post article.

Among the deficiencies, the evaluators reported delays waiting for an operator to answer; delays getting to a 911 dispatch center; location problems; and, repeated false alarms.

“Some of the devices we tested sent false alarms during shipment to us. Once they arrived, even more false alarms. On a few occasions our receptionist looked up to find paramedics at our office front door, ready with gurney, oxygen, defibrillator, the works,” the report states.

Consumers’ Checkbook said it could not recommend most of the devices tested because of the numerous problems that cropped up during the evaluation.

AvantGuard Monitoring Issues Response

Ogden, Utah-based AvantGuard Monitoring issued a press release to counter some of the overall testing results. The company also boasted that it monitors three of the top five performing devices. Following is an abridged version of what the wholesale monitoring provider had to say about the evaluation:

What They Missed

What the article failed to consider … is how many false alarms a central station relieves from a government dispatch agency, the role that a central station plays in delivering customer health information, and how central stations respond when PERS users become incapacitated.

Filtering False Alarms

Nearly 95% of calls that enter a central station are not emergency related. The cost and load of handling those signals would overwhelm most government dispatch agencies. In addition, the tests were only performed from a pragmatic perspective. What the testers did not consider is how many PERS users push their button to get help from family members or to simply feel less alone. A PERS service is not only about the devices, but about the comfort and peace of mind they provide.

Medical Information Relay

When a PERS user pushes their button, the central station stores information like lock-box codes. When relayed, EMS professionals can safely enter a home instead of having to break down the front door.

In fact, property damage is one of the major issues that non PERS device users face after an emergency. In addition, central stations keep allergy and other medical notes to deliver to the dispatch agency they are closest to, delivering a more effective medical response.

Unconsciousness, Falls and Incapacitation

When a PERS user has an accident that renders them incapable to respond or call 911, the central station takes over and sends help, even if only to err on the side of caution.

Location-Based Services

Finally, the article did not clarify which location technologies were tested in the test. It is crucial for dealers and consumers alike to understand the difference between GPS vs. cellular technologies before purchasing a device. Cellular locating technology will always perform better in urban and city areas, whereas GPS performs better in less populated areas with a clear view of the sky.

Are you of the mind that medical-alert devices got short shrift in the Consumers’ Checkbook testing? Or did the evaluation expose deficiencies in PERS and related services? Let us know in the comments section below.

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