Need a medical alert system? Phone provider matters

If you’ve fallen and you can’t get up, your medical alert system might be able to help.

Those systems provide remote connections to phone service. Pushing a button connects the user to help.

But there are limitations.

Not all systems are compatible with all types of phone lines.

And they all need electricity.

A Warren County resident who had tried to have a particular alert system installed in her home called the Times Observer when she was told it wouldn’t work.

There was a good reason.

She had bought a system that was incompatible with her phone service provided by WestPA.net.

WestPA offers its phone services over the internet — Voice Over Internet Protocol or VoIP.

The medical alert system the customer bought only works with analog phone lines.

There are options.

Some medical alert systems are compatible with VoIP. And, there are alternatives to VoIP.

There are systems that work with cellular phones — but there are dead zones in Warren County.

“It depends on what equipment they decide to buy,” WestPA Engineer Kevin Custer said.

In any case, when a customer doesn’t have electricity, some systems will not work.

VoIP works that way. “No power, no internet, no phone, no button,” WestPA Partner Elaine Bailey said.

An analog phone line carries a trickle of power from the provider during an outage, Custer said. That is enough to allow a corded phone to operate.

Having an analog line does not guarantee service during an outage. That trickle will not power a cordless phone.

A VoIP customer has to have power at both ends to make calls.

WestPA will hold up its end for some time. “Our systems stay up for hours,” Bailey said. And there are two separate types of backups. If they can’t use natural gas, the propane generator will take over.

“Because we have battery backup of our main line plant, if a customer has UPS (uninterruptible power supply) or a generator” they will be able to use their phone, Custer said.

UPS backup and even generators have limits.

“If having the telephone operate in your home is an emergent situation,” Custer suggest having a corded phone hooked to an analog line, even if that means going to some provider other than WestPA.

“We still recommend to a customer” to switch to another provider “if that’s the best thing for the customer,” Bailey said. “The customer’s safety comes first.”

WestPA checks when talking to prospective new customers who have alert systems.

“Your provider has to be able to provide a signal to your home,” WestPA Partner Tom Nuhfer said. “Your device has to work with VoIP.”

“We ask those questions when someone requests phone service,” Bailey said. Depending on the answers, “you might be better off staying.”

Having all the information is key to getting the right product.

“Consumers should also verify if their medical alert provider offers VOIP, cellular and/or internet solutions as options,” Bill Gallagher of Insight Technology said. “Many consumers have moved away from analog phone lines and this definitely impacts the medical alert industry.”

There is equipment that can make VoIP work with an analog phone line.

“VOIP can work with analog phone lines but they require translation,” Gallagher said. “These devices are normally referred to as ATAs (analog telephone adapters). This would need to be configured by the telephone provider and is generally at an added cost.”

Advances in technology make it increasingly likely that more medical alert systems will work with internet and cellular phone services in the future.

“With many residential customers moving to VOIP solutions this will eventually limit their market space to only those that have analog phone lines,” Gallagher said. “There are other medical alert companies that are more progressive and work with the internet and do not utilize legacy analog phone lines.”

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