Page Reviewed / Updated – November 30, 2020

Wearable medical alert devices and medical alarm systems are designed to allow seniors and those with a disability greater independence and give users the ability to summon emergency assistance with the push of a button. Many of these systems use GPS and cellular technology to accurately determine the wearer’s location, which is beneficial if the wearer is unable to communicate verbally. Other features include two-way communications between the user and either a designated contact or a trained operator, which can help secure the correct level of assistance.

Several companies manufacture wearable medical alert alarms, with different products and subscription plans available from each company. These devices and plans offer many similar benefits. Choosing the right one can be confusing, as the marketing language used by the manufacturers paints each product in the best light. This guide aims to help people determine the best system for their needs, with straightforward language and independent assessment.

Medical Guardian and Philips Lifeline are two reputable medical alarm companies, each with an established history of creating high-quality, user-friendly products. Both companies have in-home and wearable devices, although Medical Guardian offers more options for users.

Category Side-By-Side Comparison Philips Lifeline Medical Guardian
Up-Front Equipment $0 $99 for Freedom Guardian $0 for all other models
Monthly Monitoring $29.95 – $64.95 depending on the plan and devices $29.95 for Classic Guardian $34.95 for Home Guardian $79.95 for Family Guardian $39.95 for Mobile Guardian $49.95 for Active Guardian $44.95 for Freedom Guardian
Activation Fee $50 – $149 per device Rates vary according to the plan selected None
Contract Month-to-month rates No cancellation fee Contracts available on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis Discounts on all contracts except monthly
Optional Monthly Add-On Services None; different plans include different services $10/month for fall detection
FEATURES Water-Resistant Wearable Devices Pendant and wristband Mobile and Active Guardian Freedom Guardian is not water-resistant N/A for other models

Landline through the subscriber’s utility plan Cellular using AT&T Landline for Classic Guardian All others – cellular connection
Two-Way Voice Communication Yes, for in-home communicator and GoSafe 2 pendant Yes for Home Guardian and Family Guardian, through the device speaker Yes for Mobile Guardian A companion app for Freedom Guardian so friends and family can track the wearer; also, voice-to-text services
Range (from in-home base unit for landline service) Up to 800 feet 1,300 feet for Classic and Family Guardian 600 feet for Home Guardian Unlimited for Mobile, Active and Freedom Guardian
Battery Life 48-hour backup battery in HomeSafe devices 2-7 days back up for GoSafe pendants and wristbands Non-rechargeable HomeSafe wristbands and pendants; Philips Services replaces the batteries when they run low 32-hour backup for Classic Guardian 30-hour backup for Home Guardian 32-hour backup for Family Guardian 24 hours for Mobile Guardian 5 days for Active Guardian 2 days for Freedom Guardian
Fall Detection Included with the HomeSafe AutoAlert plan and the GoSafe plan $10/month for Classic, Home, Family and Active Guardian N/A for Mobile and Freedom Guardian

GPS Locator
Included with GoSafe and GoSafe 2 plans GPS for Mobile Guardian Wi-Fi for Active and Freedom Guardian N/A for all other models
Coverage Away From Home Yes for GoSafe and GoSafe 2 devices Yes for Mobile, Active and Freedom Guardian No for Classic, Home and Family Guardian
24/7 USA Call Center Yes; services available in 140 different languages Yes
OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES None $2/month for lockbox services to allow EMS access to the home $2/month per button for manual wall-mounted buttons $5 for a voice-activated wall-mounted button (only for Family and Classic Guardian models)

Overview of Philips Lifeline

Philips Lifeline devices, from the Philips Electric Company, use industry-leading technology to create sensitive equipment and enable fast response. The Philips Lifeline system has over 7 million users, and the customer call centers in the United States and Canada offer operator assistance in 140 languages. The company requires operators to undergo 80 hours of initial training, focusing on the needs of the elderly and disabled.

Philips Lifeline devices are intended to help seniors who choose to age in place, and its in-home monitoring systems are sensitive enough to provide help for everyone in the home. This may benefit older couples or companions who are aging in place together, as all members of the household are covered under the same plan and have access to the same devices.

One drawback of the Philips line of products is that the devices must be installed by a certified Philips technician, although this does ensure that the device is correctly installed. However, the costs for Philips Lifeline plans are fairly approachable, starting at $29.95 per month and ranging up to $54.95 for on-the-go monitoring.

One Philips Lifeline feature that many users enjoy is the medication management and dispensing system. This system lets a caregiver or the user deposits pills into the receptacle and program the time that each is dispensed, helping to prevent accidental double-dosing or missed medications and making it easier for seniors with complicated medication regimens to stay on schedule. The Lifeline service also has an app for family members or a designated caregiver to monitor the subscriber using the Philips Cares mobile app, which is compatible with iOS and Android devices.

Philips Lifeline’s base plan, which costs $29.95 per month, is the HomeSafe water-resistant speaker, connected either through the owner’s landline or cellular service.

The HomeSafe with AutoAlert is an upgrade of this plan and can automatically contact emergency services if the user isn’t able to communicate. It starts at $44.95.

The GoSafe plan is a wearable device equipped with GPS monitoring to help EMS responders locate the wearer. This is especially beneficial in situations where the user can’t communicate verbally or is unconscious. It’s also useful for tracking seniors who may be prone to wander. The system has an unlimited range as long as the wearer is within AT&T cellular coverage. The plan is $64.95 per month.

Philips Lifeline Pros

  • No contracts or hidden fees
  • Waterproof wearable devices safe to use in the shower or pool
  • Devices designed by a medical doctor and programmed by an electrical design company
  • Charging not necessary for in-home help buttons
  • Medication dispensing and management service
  • Philips Cares app lets caregivers check the device status and coordinate caregiver duties among users
  • GPS positioning for GoSafe device wearers

Philips Lifeline Cons

  • Wearable devices look like medical alert pendants
  • High up-front costs, one of the highest for medical alert systems
  • Limited design and plan options

Medical Guardian Overview

Medical Guardian founder and CEO, Geoff Cross, started the company specifically to address the needs of the elderly with medical alert devices that cover a wide range of requirements. Each product is intended to help the elderly age in place and preserve their independence and dignity.

This company has more options for devices and plans than many other medical alert manufacturers, which offers flexibility for subscribers and opportunities to change plans or add different equipment as their needs change. Choices include in-home speakers and wearable alert devices that resemble smartwatches, a discreet option that many seniors prefer. However, the pricing for the plans is among the highest in the industry.

The Classic, Home and Family Guardian devices are in-home medical alert devices that can monitor everyone in the home. The buttons are large and feature Braille and large font labels.

The mobile Guardian devices feature two-way communication between the wearer and either a preloaded contact or the company’s operator. A free portal for caregivers allows them to monitor the user’s location and receive voice-to-text alerts if the device is activated. This feature lets the wearer summon help from an individual when an emergency response isn’t necessary.

Medical Guardian Pros

  • Multiple plans and devices
  • No activation or upfront device fees (except Freedom Guardian)
  • Smartwatch design available
  • Premium features

Medical Guardian Cons

  • Operators speak a limited number of languages
  • Some of the highest plan costs in the industry
  • No fall detection with Freedom Guardian

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Our Pick

While both companies have an excellent track record for high-quality devices and responsiveness, the multitude of options from Medical Guardian makes it our winner. Many subscribers appreciate a wearable alert device with smartwatch capabilities, which Philips doesn’t have, and Medical Guardian does. Plus, Medical Guardian has two-way communication so the wearer can summon nonemergency assistance from a caregiver or family member.