The Bay Alarm Medical In-Home Medical Alert ($19.95 per month) is a moderately priced, no-contract personal emergency response system that’s a breeze to install and use. It delivered quick response times in testing, and its two-way hands-free communication is excellent. We love the base unit’s extra-large help button, and the pendant help button’s solid in-home and outdoor range, though we found the reset button to be inconveniently located. That said, it’s the best medical alert system we’ve tested, and our Editors’ Choice.
Design, Features, and Pricing
The Bay Alarm In-Home uses a white Mytex MXD base unit that measures 2.0 by 7.9 by 5.2 inches (HWD). It can sit on a countertop or be mounted on a wall. The face of the unit contains a relatively large 4.0-by-2.0-inch bright red help button, and a microphone and speaker for two-way hands-free audio communication with the response center.
The help button has a small status light that’s solid green when the system is plugged in to AC power and ready to go, and flashes green when it is operating on battery power (the unit has a built-in backup battery that will supply up to 32 hours of power in the event of a power loss). A solid red light indicates that an alarm has been sent and the unit is communicating with the response center, and a flashing red light means the phone line is not connected. A flashing orange light indicates the unit is operating on battery power but is not connected to the phone line.
There’s a reset button on the back of the unit that is used to cancel a help call and return the system to a state of readiness. However, the button must be pressed within 15 seconds of a help call to prevent the call from going through. It’s placement around back and right next to the similarly sized T/L (test/learn) button is a bit inconvenient, and could lead to some confusion if the alarm is set off accidentally. By way of comparison, the LifeFone and LifeStation base units both offer larger reset buttons that are conveniently located on the face of the unit. However, neither system will cancel a call. The T/L button is used to conduct help pendant range tests and to place the unit in diagnostic mode to troubleshoot problems.
We reviewed the In-Home Landline system, which costs $19.95 per month. That’s a bit less expensive than what you’ll pay for the LifeFone and LifeStation systems. Bay Alarm does not offer quarterly and annual payment discounts but if you sign up for the semi-annual payment plan ($119.70 for 6 months), the company will throw in a lockbox ($39.95) for free. The lockbox holds your house keys and uses a combination that is on file with the Bay Alarm Medical response team. It hangs on your outer doorknob and allows emergency responders to enter your home without having to break down the door.
The landline base unit has two RJ-11 phone jacks at the rear, along with a hardwired power cord. It works with most standard phone, VoIP, and cable service providers, and there’s a compatibility list on the company’s website if you’re unsure. You can also order the system with an AT&T cellular option installed for an extra $9.95 per month.
The system comes with a welcome letter, a two-page installation guide, and a mail-in protection plan form where you enter your contact information, the names and numbers for your notification call list, and your lockbox code. It also comes with a Vial of Life kit, where you can list any important medical information, including medications, that will assist emergency responders. The Vial of Life information is kept in a secure plastic folder and placed on your refrigerator door (or another area of your choosing) where responders will know to look for it.
When you order the system, you get a choice of a necklace help button pendant or a wristband help button. Both are waterproof and rated to provide up to 1,000 feet of coverage. If there are two people in the house that require monitoring, you can purchase extra pendant or wristband buttons for an additional $1.95 per month each, but as with the other systems we’ve reviewed, you don’t have to pay extra for monitoring. A Fall Detection pendant with an 800-foot range costs an additional $9.95 per month, and you can purchase one or more wireless wall help buttons for $1.95 (each) per month. Bay Alarm Medical does not currently offer services such as medicine reminders and daily wellness checks that you can get with the LifeFone system.
Installation and Performance
Installing the In-Home system couldn’t be easier. Simply plug the unit into an AC outlet and connect the RJ-11 phone line to a telephone wall jack. You can then connect your phone to the phone jack on the back of the unit. Once plugged in, it takes a few seconds for the system to enter a ready state, at which point a digital voice will tell you that it’s good to go. If you forget to plug in the phone line or if there’s a problem with the phone line, the voice will ask you to “Please check telephone connections.”
To use the In-Home system, tap the base unit help button or the pendant help button to initiate a hands-free call to the response center. The system will announce, via digital voice commands, that it is calling for help and will then tell you that the call is connected. Once connected to the response center, you can tell the responder what’s going on and request help, or you can report a false alarm or a system test. If you can’t or don’t answer when the responder comes online, the responder will attempt to call your home and then any contacts listed on the profile sheet that you fill out when you first install the system. If no contact is made, the responder will call 911. If requested, the response center will also send out email and SMS notifications when an alarm is triggered.
Response times were quick. On my first help button test I waited 40 seconds before a live responder answered the call, including the 20-second dialing procedure. My second test garnered a faster 30-second response, and on my third test I was connected to a live person within 36 seconds of pressing the help button. Subsequent response times averaged around 35 seconds, which is faster than the LifeFone (48 seconds) and the LifeStation (42 seconds) systems. The In-Home system never failed to connect me with a responder, and the person on the other end always verified my name and was polite, friendly, and professional. Hands-free communication was consistently loud and perfectly clear.
The portable help pendant elicited an immediate response from every room in my single-story three-bedroom ranch and worked perfectly at distances of 100 too 400 feet while outside of my home. After 400 feet, reception was spotty, and at 500 feet there was no response at all. To put it in perspective, the 500 foot mark is six houses down the block from my home. The LifeFone and LifeStation pendants maxed out at 100 and 150 feet outside, respectively.
If you have health issues or have a loved one that may need immediate medical attention, consider an emergency response solution from Bay Alarm Medical. The In-Home Medical Alert System uses your existing landline and installs in seconds, and offers an extra-large help button and clear hands-free two-way audio. Its landline, cellular, and fall detection coverage are a bit more expensive than the competition, but the system delivered the fastest overall response times and the best portable help button range in our tests. That makes it our Editors’ Choice for in-home medical alert systems.