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Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Personal Emergency Response System

At one point in time, we have all heard someone mock the commercial with the woman who has fallen and can't get up. Put the mockery aside and you may find yourself in the market for a small product that's big on peace of mind. Even if your parent is currently in good physical and mental condition, he or she may still benefit from a personal emergency response system (PERS). PERS transmitters are relatively unobtrusive and are worn or carried by the owner.

If you are considering this purchase, first investigate which systems are available in your parent's geographical region. Review more than one of the available services and be prepared with the following questions:

  1. What are the components of the PERS? Typically the PERS includes a battery-powered transmitter, a console that receives the signal from the transmitter and automatically dials the preprogrammed emergency number; and the response center.
  2. How does the PERS work? The user presses a button, the console receives the signal and the response center is called.
  3. Who will respond when I press the button? Response centers are operated either by the PERS provider or by the manufacturer. Provider-based resource centers are usually local, while the manufacturer-based centers may be one central, national location. The best response centers will have live, well-trained personnel answering the calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  4. How quickly will I get a response? This will vary from provider to provider and region to region. Either way it should be a fast, if not immediate, response.
  5. Can I use the system with a different response center if I move? The answer to this question will depend on the system you choose and the region of the country you live in. If this is important, be sure to get an adequate response from the providers you interview. Also ask about transfer costs.
  6. If a component of the system breaks or is not working, how quickly will it be repaired? The reason you are purchasing an "emergency" response system is to have it available in an emergency. Be sure the system you purchase will be serviced quickly. Check the Better Business Bureau or the Consumer Products Safety Commission to find out if there have been any complaints issued about the company you are investing in.
  7. Do I have to purchase the system or can I rent or lease? Often you will have the option to purchase, rent or lease. Be sure to get all the details about pricing and compare one company to another — apples to apples. Read the fine print in the contracts before you sign!
  8. How much does the system cost? According to the FDA, purchase prices for a PERS normally range from $200 to more than $1,500. However, some consumers have reported paying $4,000 to $5,000 for a PERS. You also will have to pay an installation fee and a monthly monitoring charge, which may cost from $10 to $30. Rentals are available through national manufacturers, local distributors, hospitals and social service agencies. Monthly fees may range from $15 to $50 and usually include the monitoring service.
  9. Is the system covered by Medicare or Medicaid? The FDA reports that in most states neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for the purchase of equipment, nor will most insurance companies. The few insurance companies that do pay require a doctor's recommendation. Some hospitals and social service agencies may subsidize fees for low-income users.
  10. Can I easily return the system if I am not happy with it or no longer need it? Some companies charge cancellation fees and other charges. Before purchasing or leasing, double check all potential fees, and compare those fees with other companies' services.