How to Buy a Medical Alert System with Automatic Fall Detection

Every second of every day, an older American falls down.1 To prevent additional injury and loss of independence, many people buy medical alert systems with automatic fall detection so they have access to the help they need as quickly as possible.

Here are five factors to consider when choosing a medical alert system with automatic fall detection:


One reason people stop using a fall detection device is false positives, according to Jon Pynoos, PhD, of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Many devices misinterpret common activities as falls and trigger an alarm. This causes disruption, distraction, and embarrassment for users.

Look for: Devices that combine multiple advanced technologies like barometric sensors, accelerometers, and algorithms to produce detection accuracy levels of 95% or higher.

Water Resistance

Having to take off a fall detection device to shower or bathe is a problem, because people are most likely to take a tumble in their own bathroom. More than one-third (35.7%) of home-based fall injuries occur in the wet zone.2

Look for: Waterproof devices that can be worn all the time, delivering fall protection no matter where the wearer is or what he or she is doing in the home.


What’s the point of having a medical alert system if it doesn’t perform when you need it to? Devices and systems with a lot of downtime (time unavailable or not working) put health and well-being at risk.

Look for: Fall detection systems with a high percentage of uptime — the closer to 100%, the better. That includes long battery life (18 months+) and multiple call centers for overlap that are designed to stay online even during power outages and bad weather.

Qualified Call Centers

When falls happen, every second counts. The automatic fall detection device should reach qualified response personnel quickly. “Real-time assessment of the scene may help determine the cause of the fall,” says Teresa McCarthy MD, MS, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Practice and Community Health. That’s critical to getting you the assistance you need, like EMS or a quick call to your doctor or caregiver.

Look for: Call center staff trained in stress management, emergency response, and gerontology.


Let’s be honest — nobody wants to wear a cumbersome device, especially if they feel it signals frailty or aging.

Look for: Fall detection wearables with a pleasing form factor that’s easily worn under clothing if desired.

Automatic Fall Detection Glossary

As you research medical alert devices with automatic fall detection, don’t let the technical talk intimidate you! Use this short glossary of terms to understand the technology that powers Philips Lifeline products.

Accelerometer: An accelerometer measures the force of acceleration and speed of movement with a simple equation: Velocity divided by time. Accelerometers are found in automatic fall detection devices as well as other everyday items, like mobile phones and game devices.

Algorithm: In math, an algorithm is an equation we use to get results, like long division. In medical devices like Philips Lifeline with AutoAlert, an algorithm is a set of steps designed to gather and analyze data from the device’s accelerometer and barometer. Combining and evaluating this data in real time enables faster and more accurate detection of falls. By programming this equation directly into the device, evaluation occurs almost immediately.

Barometer: We’re used to hearing about barometer readings during weather reports, but they’re also helpful indicators of a fall. In a fall detection device, a barometer measures a change in atmospheric pressure, which indicates a change of altitude. Research shows that adding barometric pressure to accelerometer data increases fall-detection accuracy to 96.9%, sensitivity to 97.5%, and specificity to 96.5%.

This information should help you and your loved one to feel more confident about choosing a medical alert system with automatic fall detection that helps people stay active and safer.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed September 2016

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