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GreatCall Review8 minute read

8 minute read

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Updated for December, 2018

Not everyone who needs a medical alert system is going to be able to operate a smartphone or flip phone, but for those who can, GreatCall is worth a look. Their approach combines the convenience and portability of cell phones with some ingenious innovations, including phones and apps specially designed to be used by seniors. GreatCall also offers some useful additional services, including an app that allows families to track their loved ones’ activity. Because they offer such lightweight, easy-to-use, and highly portable equipment to seniors anxious to maintain a more mobile lifestyle, we’ve chosen GreatCall as the Best Medical Alert System for Active Users for 2018.

Pros
  • Innovative systems work through specially designed mobile devices
  • Provides mobile devices that pair with user’s own phone
  • Activity tracker functions available
  • No contract required
  • Large variety of plans and services
Cons
  • Activation fee
  • No reimbursement for equipment if you cancel after 30 days
  • Monitoring centers not CSAA Five Diamond Certified

At a Glance

A checklist of standard features.

Cell Phones with Medical Alert Features Medical Alert Devices Medical Alert Devices
Features Jitterbug Smart Jitterbug Flip Lively Mobile Device Lively Wearable Device
GreatCall Link X X X
24/7 Access to nurses/doctors X X X
Waterproof X X X X
Unlimited range X X X X
Fall Detection X X
Low Battery Indicator X X X X

GreatCall Review

In August 2018, big box retailer Best Buy purchased GreatCall. While Best Buy may not seem like the place you think of for the over-70 crowd, supplying GreatCall’s phones and monitoring devices provides a wider option for customers to find the products. For the most part, medical alert systems work like this: a wearable device—often mounted a pendant or a wristband—allows the user to press a button; this button either sends an alert to a home base station that automatically dials a call center or, on mobile models, allows the user to communicate directly with the call center via a cellular connection. But with cellular service starting to achieve near-universal coverage and with smartphones allowing a new flexibility for cell phone users, it seems inevitable that someone would use the pervasiveness of mobile and cellular technology—and the newly-acquired savvy that most consumers have when it comes to operating that technology—to create a powerful new tool for summoning help when needed. GreatCall’s line of cell phones has stepped into this opening.

GreatCall also offers some useful additional services, including an app that allows families to track their loved ones’ activity.

Phones and signaling devices:

Phones and signaling devices: The heart of GreatCall’s product line is its specially designed smartphone and flip phone, known as the Jitterbug Smart and Jitterbug Flip, respectively. Some seniors may have reservations about their ability to operate a smartphone, but the Jitterbug Smart attempts to bypass such difficulties by providing a larger than normal screen and a simplified interface with large, specially designed icons that make operating the phone easier. The phone also boosts accessibility by coming equipped with voice typing—allowing those who might have difficulty texting to dictate the messages they want to send—and a dedicated app for performing the phone’s essential function of contacting the GreatCall emergency operators. The Jitterbug Flip offers similar options, modified for the flip phone interface, and offers a single, large, dedicated button for contacting the call center. The company’s more standard accessories—a pendant and a watch wearable—are also meant to work with cell phones: using a bluetooth connection they can also contact the call center. These waterproof wearables also offer fitness tracking and health monitoring features for seniors trying to maintain a more active lifestyle, and they offer fall detection as well.

GreatCall’s devices are fully integrated with the internet, which means that they can provide some additional benefits that are hard for traditional medical alert systems to deliver. Depending on the plan, Jitterbug Smart and Flip users—and customers with cell phones from other manufacturers—can receive automated check-in calls to make sure they’re alert and active, as well as reminders to take vital medicine. GreatCall also offers an Urgent Care app that, when activated, allows the user to speak with a live nurse or doctor 24/7: the medical staff can even issue prescriptions for common medications while the user is still on the line. Finally, there’s the GreatCall link app, which allows the user—and authorized caregivers and family members—to keep tabs on the user’s activity level via an internet portal. In short, GreatCall has figured out a number of innovative ways to use the internet and mobile technology to help seniors stay in touch, summon help, and maintain their independence.

The heart of GreatCall’s product line is its specially designed smartphone and flip phone, known as the Jitterbug Smart and Jitterbug Flip, respectively.

Unlike some companies, GreatCall contracts out its call center services to a third party. These 5 Star agents, however, are specially trained in emergency response and are certified by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. They have the user’s health information available whenever a user calls, and are empowered to get roadside assistance, contact family members, or call emergency services, as required.

Perhaps because their medical alert system model avoids the expense of a base station, GreatCall offers some highly affordable options, with its cell-phone based Ultimate Plan offering the best value for all the features it provides. Note, however, that GreatCall does require you to purchase the device you use—even its wearable non-phone signalling devices—so there’s an initial cost for that that runs to over $100. Voice and data (necessary to make the phones more than a medical alert device) cost additional, though these are sold in pre-paid bundles that are right in line with other cellular phone companies’ fees.

None of GreatCall’s service packages or equipment require the user to purchase a long-term contract, and no service package charges a cancellation fee (though if you cancel, you’re unlikely to get money back for the unused portion of the current month). GreatCall doesn’t charge for shipping, and doesn’t charge an activation fee, either. They do, however, offer a 30-day trial, meaning that the company gives you all the flexibility you need to decide whether their innovative approach is a good fit for you or your loved ones.

Features Cell Phones with Medical Alert Features Medical Alert Devices Medical Alert Devices
Jitterbug Smart Jitterbug Flip Lively Mobile Device Lively Wearable Device
Device Price $112.49 $75 $24.99 $37.49
GreatCall Link X X X
24/7 Access to nurses/doctors X X X
5 Star Response X X X X
Incoming Check-up Calls (add'l fee may apply) X X
Personal Operator X X
Weekly Wellness Message (add'l fee may apply) X X
Brain Games X X
Fall Detection X X
Fitness Tracker X
Product Replacement (add'l fee may apply) X X X
Waterproof X X X X
Unlimited Range X X X X
Low Battery Indicator X X X X
Medication Reminder Messages (add'l fee may apply) X X

Given that it offers such flexibility and transparency (prices and plans are readily available on the GreatCall website), it’s no surprise that GreatCall routinely earns praise from its customers for their phones, devices, and services.

Interestingly, there were relatively few reports of seniors having trouble navigating their phones’ interfaces, and those who have had to use the system (including its fall detection features) seemed highly satisfied, and especially praised the speed of the call center’s response. In our survey, we also noticed a lot of praise for some of the system’s extra features, especially the family tracking app, suggesting that GreatCall’s phone offerings are certainly worth a try.

Features Cell Phones with Medical Alert Features Medical Alert Devices Medical Alert Devices
Jitterbug Smart Jitterbug Flip Lively Mobile Device Lively Wearable Device
Device Price $112.49 $75 $24.99 $37.49
GreatCall Link X X X
24/7 Access to nurses/doctors X X X
5 Star Response X X X X
Incoming Check-up Calls (add'l fee may apply) X X
Personal Operator X X
Weekly Wellness Message (add'l fee may apply) X X
Brain Games X X
Fall Detection X X
Fitness Tracker X
Product Replacement (add'l fee may apply) X X X
Waterproof X X X X
Unlimited Range X X X X
Low Battery Indicator X X X X
Medication Reminder Messages (add'l fee may apply) X X

New technology is offering a leading-edge level of service for seniors seeking to live independently, and GreatCall stands out for pulling the new opportunities together into some very attractive packages. While not every senior is going to want a mobile device, and some seniors may not be able to make full use of one, GreatCall’s phones and mobile signaling devices may be the right answer both for seniors who are somewhat tech savvy and for seniors who have a higher level of independence and a more active lifestyle. For this reason, we’ve selected GreatCall as our choice for the Best Medical Alert System for Active Users for 2018.