Technology is moving at a rapid pace and it's dragging the medical alert industry along with it. Medical alert systems have been around since the late 70s and became popular in the late 80s and early 90s, when the LifeCall slogan "I've fallen, and I can't get up" became well known.
In the early 90s, the internet was in its infancy, cell phones were like bricks, and the only way to browse the web at a coffee shop was to sneak into the staff room and hijack their computer. 30 years later, everyone has a super-powered, internet-ready computer in their pocket. A growing number also have them strapped to their wrists.
That begs the question, now that technology has advanced so far and placed so much power at your fingertips, do you really need a medical alert system, or can you use a smartwatch instead?
Apple Smartwatches and Samsung Smartwatches
Apple and Samsung are at the forefront of innovation when it comes to smartwatches. They dominate the smartphone market, so they have the money and influence to create the best smartwatches.
One of the big benefits of using a smartwatch over a traditional wearable help button or even a medical alert smartwatch (more on those below) is that they're often more attractive and come with many more features.
There are a few sacrifices in the medical alert department, but probably not as many as you think:
Pros of Using a Samsung or Apple Watch
The best smartwatches have built-in fall detection systems that often perform better than the ones used in medical alert devices. They can tell when you are exercising, when you're moving the watch in front of your face to look at it, and when you fall. They will then send an SOS to your designated person, such as a caregiver or loved one.
Emergency SOS Texts and Calls
You can program an SOS/emergency number into both the Apple Watch and the Samsung Watch. It will send a message or make a call when there is an emergency, such as a fall, and you can also program the watch to make this move when you press and hold a specific button.
No Monthly Fee
You don't need to pay a monthly fee to keep using your smartwatch. As we'll see in the "cons" section below, there is a reason for that.
Health Monitoring and GPS
Smartwatches come with GPS locators to help emergency responders track you down. They also have heart-rate monitors and will tell you how many steps you've taken, how many calories you've burned, and whether you're pushing yourself too hard while exercising.
Most of the things that you can do on your phone are also available on your watch. They even have built-in speakers and microphones, so you can use them to make telephone calls.
The microphones are powerful and the speakers are clear, so you can usually let your arm dangle by your side as you communicate, as opposed to holding it up to your mouth like a secret agent.
Cons of Using a Samsung or Apple Watch
No Operating Center
A medical alert system charges you a monthly fee because it gives you access to a 24/7 operations center. You're always one button away from being connected to this emergency operations center that will alert your loved ones or call for help to ensure you get assistance.
Large Initial Cost
Although you don't need to pay a monthly fee, smartwatches can have a large initial cost of as much as $300. It's a lot of money to pay upfront and is more than some users can afford. Of course, you can always finance one, but therein lies another issue, as it's an additional line of credit, a responsibility, and something that will likely charge interest.
Poor Battery Life
The battery life on Samsung and Apple Watches isn't great, and many users complain that they need to charge them every single day, even when they are not using any apps or other energy-draining features.
Even if you stay on the ball and recharge it every chance you get, there will always be times when you forget. If you have an accident during one of those times, you won't get the help that you need.
You Need Your Phone
Smartwatches work by connecting to your phone using Bluetooth. If you are out of range, you will lose that connection, which means that you need to have your phone nearby at all times. It renders some of those benefits useless, although it's still a good option for incidents in which you can't use your phone and need an automatic SOS to be sent.
What About Medical Alert Smart Watches?
Medical alert smartwatches are basically advanced alert systems that you can use just like a smartwatch. They have many of the same features, but the difference is that they focus more on monitoring, alerting, and responding.
They are not without their issues, though. Take MobileHelp Smart as an example. It was created in combination with Samsung and works a lot like a Samsung smartwatch. It looks great, offers many useful features, and will do pretty much everything you need it to do.
The problem is, it seems to be sold out everywhere and it's very hard to get your hands on it.
The Freedom Guardian works in a similar manner and is usually available, but it's not as aesthetically pleasing, doesn't have as many features, and is basically just a wearable help button that tells the time and offers a few extra features, such as text to speech messaging. You'll also need to cough-up nearly $45 a month, which means that after just one year, you'll have paid enough to buy two Apple Watches.
Summary: Can You Use an Apple Watch or Samsung Watch as an Alert System?
To summarize, you can use these devices as medical alert systems and they provide many great features, including automatic fall detection, an SOS button, GPS location tracking, a heart rate monitor, and more. However, keep in mind that you won't get access to a monthly monitoring service. If that’s a deal breaker for you, you’ll need to pay more money and get a more specialized product.