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How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical researcher Dr. Seth Pollack and patient advocate Sujata Dutta explain the benefits of participating in a clinical trial. They review important questions to ask your doctor and share advice for finding a trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

What Is a Clinical Trial and What Are the Phases? 

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Sujata, there’s clearly a lot of hesitation and misconceptions out there. What would you say to someone who’s considering a trial but is hesitant?

Sujata Dutta:  

I would say speak to your provider, speak to your doctor, and get all these myths kind of busted to say, “it’s going to be expensive” or whatever those questions are. And then, through that process also try and understand what is it that the study is trying to achieve? How is that going to be beneficial to you? So, in my instance, it wasn’t the last line of defense, it was just one of the processes or combos that would help me. And so, that was important for me to understand and then a little bit of education as well. So, I was asking, I have questions on my phone every time I meet my provider, and I did the same thing. So, I think that one of the good practices is keep your note of your questions and have those questions ready. And no question is silly, all questions are important. So, ask as many questions as you can and use that opportunity to educate yourself about it.

And maybe you realize, “No. I don’t think it’s working for me” or “I don’t think this trial is good for me.” But it’s good, important, to have that conversation with your provider, that’s what I would recommend highly.

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Pollack, if someone is interested in participating, how can they find out about what trials are even available for them?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I mean, the best thing to do is to start just by asking your doctor if they know about any clinical trials. And a lot of the times the clinical trials are run at the big medical centers that may be closer to you, so you could ask your doctor if there’s any clinical trials at the big medical center even. Or I always think it’s good to get a second opinion, you could go get a second opinion at the big medical center that’s close to you and ask them what clinical trials are at your center.

And sometimes they’ll be conscious about some of the clinical trials that may be even run around the country. And you can ask about that as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

Would specialists have more information about clinical trials than say a general practitioner?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

So, I specialize in rare cancers, so a lot of the times the general practitioners they’ve got my cell phone number, and they text me, and they say, “Hey, do you have a clinical trial going on right now?” And that happens all the time, but yeah, the specialists will usually because frankly there’s so much to know. And the general practitioners really have a lot to keep track of with all the different types of diseases that are out there. Whereas at the big centers, the specialists, part of their job is really to keep their tabs on what’s going on with the clinical trials.

So, they’re good people to ask, either your local doctor could reach out to them, or you could go get a second opinion and ask.

Sujata Dutta:  

There’s also a lot of information, Katherine, on sites such as LLS, or PEN, or American Cancer Society that they also publish a lot of information. Of course, I would recommend once you have that information then vet it by your specialist, or whatever. But if you’re interested in knowing more about clinical trials in general and some that would work for you, then those are also some places to get information from.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s great information. Thank you, I was going to ask you about that Sujata. Well, before we end the program, Dr. Pollack, I’d like to get your final thoughts. What message do you want to leave the audience with related to clinical trial participation?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I think clinical trials it can be a very rewarding thing for a lot of patients to do, I think patients really like learning about the new treatments. And I think a lot of patients really like being a part of pushing the therapies forward in addition to feeling like sometimes they’re getting a little bit of an extra layer of scrutiny, because there’s a whole extra team of research coordinators that are going through everything.

And getting access to something that isn’t available yet to the general population. So, I think there’s a whole host of advantages of going on clinical trials, but you need to figure out whether or not a clinical trial is right for you.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Sujata, what would you like to add?

Sujata Dutta:  

Absolutely, I second everything that Dr. Pollack is saying. And in my personal experience I wouldn’t say everything is hunky-dory, everything is fine. I’m going through treatment, I have chemo every four weeks, I started with chemo every week. That’s when the logistics pace was really difficult because going to Mayo every week was not easy. But anyways, as the trial progress itself every four weeks, but as I said the benefits are huge because I have labs every four weeks. I meet my provider every four weeks.

So, we go through the labs and anything amiss, I’ve had some changes to my dosage because I’ve had some changes in the labs. And so, there’s a lot of scrutiny which I like, but the flip side, for maybe some maybe like, “I have to have chemo every four weeks. Do I want to do that or not?” Or whatever. In my case, I knew it, and I signed up for it, and I’m committed to doing that for two years. And so, I’m fine with that. So, I would say all in all, I’d see more benefits of being in a clinical trial. One, you’re motivated to give back to the community. Two, you are being monitored and so your health is important to your provider just as it is to you. And so, I highly recommend being part of a trial if it works for you and if you’re eligible for one.

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Clinical researcher Dr. Seth Pollack explains the safety protocols in place for clinical trials, including how data is reported and protected. Patient advocate Sujata Dutta goes on to share her experience in a clinical trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Some patients feel that clinical trials aren’t safe, is that the case, Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, we go through, as I was saying before, these clinical trials are extensively vetted. So, the safety is, of course, one of the things that we look most carefully about. But as I was saying before, like with any treatment’s cancer treatments have toxicity, that’s a common problem. So, and when you’re dealing with something brand new sometimes there is a little bit more risk. So, when you’re talking about these very early-stage Phase I trials you probably want to talk to your doctor about what sorts of toxicities you can expect and where they are in the Phase I trial. Are you the first ever to receive this new drug? And if you are nobody’s making you go in the clinical trial, so it can only help to get more information. Right? So, you should ask your team about it, you should find out. 

Most of the time there’s going to be a lot of patients that have been treated already, I mean, they can’t give you definitive data about how things are going but they can maybe say, “Hey. I’ve already treated a few patients on it, and they seem to be doing great.” 

Katherine Banwell:

So, you need to weigh the pros and cons of the trial. 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

You do need to weigh the pros and cons. Now, when you’re talking about these Phase IIs and Phase IIIs, I mean, these are drugs now that have really been vetted for their safety and we have a lot of data about it. And even the Phase Is, it’s not like these things are coming out of nowhere, they’ve been scrutinized, we really expect that they’re going to be safe but we’re doing the trial to prove it. So, it’s a good thing to ask about. 

Katherine Banwell:

Yeah, yeah. 

Sujata Dutta:

Yeah. I would also add that it’s so closely monitored that safety is a top priority, it’s front and center. So, the advantage, I think, with being on a trial is the close monitoring of the patient exactly for this reason. 

If something is amiss it’s going to be picked up as quickly as possible and you’re any issues are going to be addressed as soon as. So, I think, safety does get addressed pretty quickly.  

Katherine Banwell:

Good. 

Can data from trials even be trusted? Dr. Pollack, is that the case? 

Dr. Seth Pollack:

Well, of course, I mean, it can be trusted. Because the thing with the clinical trial data is that you really see the data and there’s all kinds of scrutiny making sure that the data is reported accurately. Now, there’s a whole other conversation we could have as to whether we could interpret the data differently. And sometimes that is an issue that comes up, but the data is reported very accurately. 

So, and there are statistics that are very well understood, and the bar is actually pretty high to say one arm of the trial was better than the other arm of the trial. So, if patients have better survival on one arm, if we say that, usually it means they did considerably better. Enough better that it wasn’t a random chance that one extra patient did better on the treatment arm. No. There were enough patients that did better that the statisticians can go through it with a fine-toothed comb. And they can be absolutely sure up to exactly how many percent sure they can tell you, 0.05 percent or less chance of error that this was a real difference between the study arm and the standard of care arm. 

Sujata Dutta:

I think you mentioned too that one is trust, and one is data. So, Dr. Pollack mentioned a lot about the data, I think the trust is also a very important thing. I like to go with positive intent because I do not have a reason to believe my doctor has some ulterior motive to suggest a clinical trial. And so, I trust them wholeheartedly. The first hurdle is you have to trust the system or what is being proposed to you because, as Dr. Pollack said, it’s gone through a lot of vetting. A recommendation to be part of a trial itself is vetted by your doctor when they make the recommendation. So, have faith, trust, that they are making a good recommendation. And then, of course, the data, I don’t know much about that, but as I said, I trust it. So, I would trust the data too. 

Katherine Banwell:

Of course. Of course. Some patients feel like they’re going to lose their privacy. Sujata, did you feel that at all? 

Sujata Dutta:

No. Not at all. 

I mean, with everything else that is also taken care of, my information, or whatever, is not made available to anybody. And so, obviously there’s a lot of people will get those, and I had a huge pile of paperwork to go through, but I think that’s a good thing. For my peace of mind that I knew that my information was not going to be shared outside of the study, the trial, etc., and things. So, no, I don’t think that’s a problem. 

Katherine Banwell:

Beyond these misconceptions is there anything else you hear? Dr. Pollack?  

Dr. Seth Pollack:

No. I mean, look, in our crazy modern world there’s concerns everywhere, but the clinical trial is very, very careful. Whenever possible we use the medical chart.  

And then, we have a very stringently protected database that’s storing people’s information, but it’s deidentified. So, I mean, we have a separate key to figure out who the patients are and then we try to limit the use of the patient’s name or any identifying information about them beyond that. So, and your information is not shared. For example, if there’s a drug company involved in the trial, your information is not shared with the drug company, you have a new identifier that is unique and not traceable back to you that is provided to whoever, if there’s outside groups working on the trial with you. So, your information is very carefully protected, and everyone is very conscious about issues regarding privacy.  

Katherine Banwell:

That’s great to know.  

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

PEN board member and myeloma survivor Sujata Dutta shares how her family managed the logistics of her clinical trial participation.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

The logistics will be a nightmare and I don’t live close to a research hospital. Sujata, did you have that issue?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. That’s a very interesting one, and actually I’ll share my experience. I did have this concern about logistics, because I got my transplant at Mayo Rochester, which is a two-hour drive from where I live. And so, when I got to know about it literally me and my husband were like, “Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do?” It’s not just me, my husband is my caregiver, he has to take the day off to drive me to Mayo, wait through my treatment, and drive me back. Then we have boys who were distance learning at the time, and so what do we do with them? Do we drop off a friends or take a favor from a friend? And so on and so forth.

So, the logistics was an issue and we literally said, “Thanks but no thanks” and we walked out of the room. And we came downstairs, and my husband was like, “What the heck?” My team understands everything, and I fortunately work for a very good employer, and they understand everything, people first. And so, he was like, “I can figure this out. Let’s do it if this is what’s going to help you, then let’s just figure this out.” And at that time, it was so good, and I have total respect for Dr. Pollack.

You and everybody in this medical community. My doctor who leads the trial at Mayo, she actually said, “Why don’t you check with your local cancer center? Maybe they are also approved by FDA, and they may be able to administer this treatment to you.” Unfortunately, at that time they weren’t but we were like, “We’re going to go ahead with the trial. It doesn’t matter.” My husband was like, “I’ll take the day off, you don’t worry about it.” And then, four months later my institute did get approved by FDA, and so I was able to transfer from Mayo to my local cancer center, Abramson Cancer Center, which is 20 minutes from home. And so, there are options, I know that it can be an issue and it can be overwhelming at the time which was the case with me. But I was able to overcome that, so maybe there are options available that the patients can consider.

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there a financial cost to participating in a clinical trial? Dr. Seth Pollack explains how clinical trials participation is billed and potential financial impacts.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Is this fact or fiction; it will be expensive? Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

That’s fiction because the way the clinical trials work is we go through everything very carefully to figure out what things are standard and what things are unique to the clinical trials. So, if you are getting chemotherapy, you’re going to need blood work, you’re going to need the chemotherapy drugs, you’re going to need some sort of imaging, CT scan, or whatever your doctor would do.

And all those sorts of things are considered standard, so your insurance company is built for those. Then there’s a bunch of things that are considered research. For example, there’s special research bloodwork, maybe there’s an investigational agent that’s being added to standard chemotherapy. Those things are billed to the study, so you don’t actually have to pay anything extra, it’s just like you’re getting the normal treatment as far as you’re concerned. I mean, that’s the way it always is, and I haven’t had any of my patients ever get into real problems in terms of the finances of these things. It always works very straight forward like standard therapy.

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?

Is a Clinical Trial a Last-Resort Option?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are clinical trials only meant as a last-resort option? Dr. Seth Pollack debunks this common clinical trial misconception and explains why he feels patients should participate when the opportunity arises.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. And another concern that people have is; clinical trials are my last resort treatment option. What do you say to that Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah, no. That’s a common misconception. So, we like to have clinical trials for every phase of the patient’s cancer journey because we’re trying to make every single part of the cancer journey better. So, I think a lot of people think that, okay, when they hit their last resort that’s kind of the time to try something new. Even in the very earliest parts of the cancer journey, even in the diagnosis phase sometimes we’ll have clinical trials where we’ve tried different images, modalities, or look at things in a different way in terms of the biopsies.

But then, in terms of the cured-of treatments, when somebody is in the cured-of setting we don’t usually try something very brand new. But a lot of the times we’ll try something that is very affective for patients at the end, and we want to try and make the cured-of strategy even better. So, a lot of the times for those patients we’ll have new therapies that are very safe and established that we’re trying to incorporate earlier into patients’ treatments because we know they work really well, right? And then, even in patients who have incurable cancer a lot of times it’s better to try a clinical trial earlier on just because sometimes the clinical trials have the most exciting new therapies that are bringing people a lot of hope.

And a lot of the times you want to try that when you’re really fit and when you’re in good shape. So, that’s why I think that you really want to think about doing a clinical trial when the opportunity arises.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Beause it could be beneficial to you and it’s certainly going to be beneficial to other people.

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Does participating in a clinical trial make you a “guinea pig” for new treatments? Clinical researcher, Dr. Seth Pollack, provides a clear explanation of clinical trial safety protocols.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Well, I’d like to address a list of common concerns about clinical trials that we’ve heard from various audience members prior to this program.

And this is probably the most common; I will be a guinea pig. Dr. Pollack, how do you respond to that?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I know that is a common concern. I mean, I think the thing that people have to understand about clinical trials is there is just so much oversight that happens for these clinical trials. Every document, every procedure, is scrutinized by multiple committees. There’s a scientific review committee, there’s a review board, IRB, that reviews these. Many of these trials are reviewed by the FDA and they’re reviewed by your doctor and your doctor’s colleagues that are also participating in the trial. So, every detail is discussed at length.

In fact, a lot of the times there’s a lot more structure to being on the clinical trial than just routine clinical care because they’ve thought so thoroughly about when everything needs to be done and what the right timing of is for the various procedures.

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Sujata Dutta, an empowered patient advocate, explains why she felt participating in a clinical trial was the right decision to treat her myeloma.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Sujata, I understand that you went through a series of treatments for your multiple myeloma, which is a type of blood cancer, including a stem cell transplant.

At what point did you and your doctor consider a clinical trial might be best for you?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yes, you’re right. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December, and so the line of treatment or the standard protocol is that you go through what is called an induction therapy. Which is like a few cycles of chemotherapy which get you ready for a transplant. And the transplant, the hope is that it kind of washes away, or cleans off all the cancer cells for you, or at least brings the cancer to a very, very minimal level. And I did go through six rounds of chemo which got me ready for the transplant, and I went through the transplant in June of 2020. However, I’m amongst the very few, small percentage of people that just did not respond with the transplant. So, I was at the same point as where I started. So, it was a little bit disappointing, but my doctors were there to help me understand the situation. It was a hard pill to swallow.

But anyways, there were options. And that’s what I feel very hopeful about with multiple myeloma is that there are so many options available today through treat, or to at least bring the disease under control to a very large extent. And I expressed a desire to be in a trial very earlier on, so my doctor did know that I would lend a year or two listening to what the trials were. And it just so happened that there was a trial that was very apt in my situation, somebody who had gone through a transplant. They have some criteria, and I was able to meet that criteria. And so, for me, it seemed to be the right decision to make. And so, that’s how I agreed to be part of the trial.

Katherine Banwell:    

Can you go into some detail about why you thought a clinical trial was a best thing for you?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. So, initially before knowing much about the strain that I’m a part of, I just had the desire to be part of a trial because I was always in awe of patients who had been in trials before me.

And because of whom I was benefiting. But whatever regiments, medications, combos, whatever was happening. And so, from that perspective I always wanted to give back in some way. Unfortunately, we are having more people being diagnosed with cancers, with multiple myeloma, and so I was very motivated to do something for the community that I was now part of. And so, I had my transplant at Mayo, and I knew that they had a whole bunch of trials and had access to different types of trials. So, that was my first motivation and it just so happened that, as I said, my experience with transplant didn’t go the desired way. And so, when I heard that there was a possibility that I could be part of a trial, I kind of leaned into actually agreeing to be part of that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. It sounds like that was the next step for you.

Sujata Dutta:  

Yup.

What Is a Clinical Trial and What Are the Phases?

What Is a Clinical Trial and What Are the Phases?  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How do clinical trials work? Dr. Seth Pollack, a clinical researcher, defines clinical trials and explains what occurs in each of the phases.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

Is It Expensive to Participate in a Clinical Trial?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Let’s start with a basic question, Dr. Pollack. What is a clinical trial?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. It’s a basic question, but actually, sometimes, it can be harder to answer than you might think.

I think everybody has an idea in their mind about what a clinical trial is, you’re going to test a new approach. But actually, there’s a whole variety of different things that can be a clinical trial, right? A clinical trial a lot of the times is testing a new drug, could be testing something for the very first time, could be testing something in combination with other drugs for the very first time. It could be testing a standard approach but doing it in a new way. It could even be giving less treatments than we usually do. For example, if there’s a very intense, harsh, standard of care treatment we might even have a clinical trial where we try a little bit less and see that patients do just as well. So, all of those things are clinical trials, but really the clinical trial in its heart is a very organized and careful approach to testing a new treatment strategy for patients.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. What are the phases of a clinical trial?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yup. So, the Phase I clinical trial is usually when we’re testing something for the first time in however we’re doing it. So, it could be the first time we’re testing a new drug, or the first time we’re testing a drug in combination with other drugs. And the real thing about a Phase I trial is that the main goal of the trial is to look at the safety and tolerability of the regiment. That doesn’t mean that we’re not really trying to figure out if the regiment works, I mean, that’s also one of the most important things. But the most important thing for a Phase I trial is making sure that it’s safe and tolerable. A Phase II trial is where we, sort of, shift and we’re still making sure, and double checking, that the drug is, but now our main focus becomes on the efficacy of the strategy.

So, now we’re trying to really figure out if this is a strategy that seems affective enough to go to a Phase III. And a Phase III is a big multi-center trial. Frequently those will be placebo controlled where a lot of the times there’ll be randomized trial where we really try to absolutely prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that, that strategy is affective. And those are most of the types of trials that patients will encounter.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Thank you for providing clarity around the phases.

Five Ways the PEN Network Manager Program Can Support Your Cancer Journey

Our Network Manager program is here to support patients and families around important topics and to provide navigation for the path to empowerment. Our network managers are highly passionate empowerment ambassadors volunteering from around the U.S., engaging with the PEN network of cancer patients and care partners, and serving as a direct channel of empowerment.  

1. Utilize the PEN Text-Line

By texting EMPOWER to +1-833-213-6657, you can meet someone with your same condition  and  receive personalized support from our Network Managers. Whether you’re a cancer patient, or a  friend or loved one of a cancer patient, PEN’s Network Managers will be here for you at every step of your journey.

2. Watch PEN Videos

Taking a proactive role in your well-being as a patient is of utmost importance for optimal health outcomes. And PEN videos are a trusted source when seeking out information from cancer experts, patients, care partners, and PEN Network Managers. Whether you’re a newly diagnosed patient, care partner, long-time cancer patient, or other concerned patient advocate, PEN videos provide a valuable way to learn about cancer patient stories, testing information, questions to ask your cancer specialist, how to support and be supported as a care partner, ensuring that your patient voice is heard, and more.

3. Read PEN Blogs

Our PEN blogs are a rich source of support information on a wide range of topics for cancer patients and care partners. The blogs serve as another way to gain knowledge and advice for navigating and coping with your cancer journey. Some recent topics have included mental  health advice, financial support resources, nutrition and exercise tips, COVID-19 vaccine guidelines, patient stories, caregiver advice, genetic testing, and cancer news updates.

4. Download and Use Our Activity Guides

Initiated as a patient and care partner tool at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our PEN-Powered Activity Guides continue as a way to stay connected and to relieve stress during your cancer journey. Packed with information and support resources, the Activity Guides provide content including clinical trial information and experiences, patient stories and lessons learned, advice from care partners, healthy recipes, music playlists, coloring pages, and more. If you’re a busy cancer patient or care partner, the Activity Guides are easy to print to take with  you to read during travel and waiting room time for cancer care appointments.

5. Learn About Our PEN Network Managers

If you don’t have time to watch a video or to read a blog right away, you can browse our list of PEN Network Managers. You can easily see the community that each Network Manager serves  and read a short bio about their experience as a cancer patient or care partner.

By taking advantage of our PEN Network Manager resources, cancer patients and care partners can gain knowledge and confidence to navigate their own cancer journeys.

Could a Clinical Trial Be Your Best Cancer Treatment Option?

Could a Clinical Trial Be Your Best Cancer Treatment Option? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is a clinical trial right for you? Cancer expert and researcher, Dr. Seth Pollack is joined by PEN board member and empowered patient, Sujata Dutta, to discuss key information about clinical trials. The guests review clinical trial terminology, debunk common misconceptions about trials, and Sujuta shares her own story of participation in a clinical trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack is Medical Director of the Sarcoma Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and is the Steven T. Rosen, MD, Professor of Cancer Biology and associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Pollack, here.

Sujuta Dutta is a myeloma survivor and empowered patient advocate, and serves a Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) board member. Learn more about Sujuta, here.

Download Guide

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

Could a Clinical Trial Be Your Best Cancer Treatment Option? Resource Guide

Understanding Clinical Trial Phases

How Could Clinical Trials Fit Into Your Myeloma Treatment Plan?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program.

Today we’re going to discuss clinical trials, what they are and how they work, and debunk some misconceptions along the way. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you. All right. Let’s meet our guests today. Joining me is Dr. Seth Pollack. Dr. Pollack, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Seth Pollack:

Yeah. Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be here, my name is Seth Pollack. I’m a medical oncologist here at Northwestern University Medical Center.

And I specialize in treating patients with cancer, and I have a specific interest in patients with a type of cancer called sarcomas.

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thank you for taking the time to join us today. And here to share the patient perspective is Sujata Dutta, who is on the board of the Patient Empowerment Network and is currently participating in a clinical trial. Sujata, it’s a pleasure to have you with us.

Sujata Dutta:

Pleasure to be here Katherine. Hello, Dr. Pollack. And hi everyone, my name is Sujata Dutta, and I was diagnosed with a cancer called multiple myeloma in December of 2019. And I’ve been on a clinical trial since September of 2020.

Katherine Banwell:    

Thank you, for that information. And we’re going to go into that further in just a few moments. Let’s start with a basic question, Dr. Pollack. What is a clinical trial?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. It’s a basic question, but actually, sometimes, it can be harder to answer than you might think.

I think everybody has an idea in their mind about what a clinical trial is, you’re going to test a new approach. But actually, there’s a whole variety of different things that can be a clinical trial, right? A clinical trial a lot of the times is testing a new drug, could be testing something for the very first time, could be testing something in combination with other drugs for the very first time. It could be testing a standard approach but doing it in a new way. It could even be giving less treatments than we usually do. For example, if there’s a very intense, harsh, standard of care treatment we might even have a clinical trial where we try a little bit less and see that patients do just as well. So, all of those things are clinical trials, but really the clinical trial in its heart is a very organized and careful approach to testing a new treatment strategy for patients.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. What are the phases of a clinical trial?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yup. So, the Phase I clinical trial is usually when we’re testing something for the first time in however we’re doing it. So, it could be the first time we’re testing a new drug, or the first time we’re testing a drug in combination with other drugs. And the real thing about a Phase I trial is that the main goal of the trial is to look at the safety and tolerability of the regiment. That doesn’t mean that we’re not really trying to figure out if the regiment works, I mean, that’s also one of the most important things. But the most important thing for a Phase I trial is making sure that it’s safe and tolerable. A Phase II trial is where we, sort of, shift and we’re still making sure, and double checking, that the drug is, but now our main focus becomes on the efficacy of the strategy.

So, now we’re trying to really figure out if this is a strategy that seems affective enough to go to a Phase III. And a Phase III is a big multi-center trial. Frequently those will be placebo controlled where a lot of the times there’ll be randomized trial where we really try to absolutely prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that, that strategy is affective. And those are most of the types of trials that patients will encounter.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. Thank you for providing clarity around the phases. Before we move onto safety and benefits of clinical trials, let’s hear from Sujata. Sujata, I understand that you went through a series of treatments for your multiple myeloma, which is a type of blood cancer, including a stem cell transplant.

At what point did you and your doctor consider a clinical trial might be best for you?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yes, you’re right. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December, and so the line of treatment or the standard protocol is that you go through what is called an induction therapy. Which is like a few cycles of chemotherapy which get you ready for a transplant. And the transplant, the hope is that it kind of washes away, or cleans off all the cancer cells for you, or at least brings the cancer to a very, very minimal level. And I did go through six rounds of chemo which got me ready for the transplant, and I went through the transplant in June of 2020. However, I’m amongst the very few, small percentage of people that just did not respond with the transplant. So, I was at the same point as where I started. So, it was a little bit disappointing, but my doctors were there to help me understand the situation. It was a hard pill to swallow.

But anyways, there were options. And that’s what I feel very hopeful about with multiple myeloma is that there are so many options available today through treat, or to at least bring the disease under control to a very large extent. And I expressed a desire to be in a trial very earlier on, so my doctor did know that I would lend a year or two listening to what the trials were. And it just so happened that there was a trial that was very apt in my situation, somebody who had gone through a transplant. They have some criteria, and I was able to meet that criteria. And so, for me, it seemed to be the right decision to make. And so, that’s how I agreed to be part of the trial.

Katherine Banwell:    

Can you go into some detail about why you thought a clinical trial was a best thing for you?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. So, initially before knowing much about the strain that I’m a part of, I just had the desire to be part of a trial because I was always in awe of patients who had been in trials before me.

And because of whom I was benefiting. But whatever regiments, medications, combos, whatever was happening. And so, from that perspective I always wanted to give back in some way. Unfortunately, we are having more people being diagnosed with cancers, with multiple myeloma, and so I was very motivated to do something for the community that I was now part of. And so, I had my transplant at Mayo, and I knew that they had a whole bunch of trials and had access to different types of trials. So, that was my first motivation and it just so happened that, as I said, my experience with transplant didn’t go the desired way. And so, when I heard that there was a possibility that I could be part of a trial, I kind of leaned into actually agreeing to be part of that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. It sounds like that was the next step for you.

Sujata Dutta:  

Yup.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Well, I’d like to address a list of common concerns about clinical trials that we’ve heard from various audience members prior to this program.

And this is probably the most common; I will be a guinea pig. Dr. Pollack, how do you respond to that?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I know that is a common concern. I mean, I think the thing that people have to understand about clinical trials is there is just so much oversight that happens for these clinical trials. Every document, every procedure, is scrutinized by multiple committees. There’s a scientific review committee, there’s a review board, IRB, that reviews these. Many of these trials are reviewed by the FDA and they’re reviewed by your doctor and your doctor’s colleagues that are also participating in the trial. So, every detail is discussed at length.

In fact, a lot of the times there’s a lot more structure to being on the clinical trial than just routine clinical care because they’ve thought so thoroughly about when everything needs to be done and what the right timing of is for the various procedures.

Katherine Banwell:    

Right. And another concern that people have is; clinical trials are my last resort treatment option. What do you say to that Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah, no. That’s a common misconception. So, we like to have clinical trials for every phase of the patient’s cancer journey because we’re trying to make every single part of the cancer journey better. So, I think a lot of people think that, okay, when they hit their last resort that’s kind of the time to try something new. Even in the very earliest parts of the cancer journey, even in the diagnosis phase sometimes we’ll have clinical trials where we’ve tried different images, modalities, or look at things in a different way in terms of the biopsies.

But then, in terms of the cured-of treatments, when somebody is in the cured-of setting we don’t usually try something very brand new. But a lot of the times we’ll try something that is very affective for patients at the end, and we want to try and make the cured-of strategy even better. So, a lot of the times for those patients we’ll have new therapies that are very safe and established that we’re trying to incorporate earlier into patients’ treatments because we know they work really well, right? And then, even in patients who have incurable cancer a lot of times it’s better to try a clinical trial earlier on just because sometimes the clinical trials have the most exciting new therapies that are bringing people a lot of hope.

And a lot of the times you want to try that when you’re really fit and when you’re in good shape. So, that’s why I think that you really want to think about doing a clinical trial when the opportunity arises.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Beause it could be beneficial to you and it’s certainly going to be beneficial to other people. Is this fact or fiction; it will be expensive? Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

That’s fiction because the way the clinical trials work is we go through everything very carefully to figure out what things are standard and what things are unique to the clinical trials. So, if you are getting chemotherapy, you’re going to need blood work, you’re going to need the chemotherapy drugs, you’re going to need some sort of imaging, CT scan, or whatever your doctor would do.

And all those sorts of things are considered standard, so your insurance company is built for those. Then there’s a bunch of things that are considered research. For example, there’s special research bloodwork, maybe there’s an investigational agent that’s being added to standard chemotherapy. Those things are billed to the study, so you don’t actually have to pay anything extra, it’s just like you’re getting the normal treatment as far as you’re concerned. I mean, that’s the way it always is, and I haven’t had any of my patients ever get into real problems in terms of the finances of these things. It always works very straight forward like standard therapy.

Katherine Banwell:    

Okay. That’s good to know. The logistics will be a nightmare and I don’t live close to a research hospital. Sujata, did you have that issue?

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. That’s a very interesting one, and actually I’ll share my experience. I did have this concern about logistics, because I got my transplant at Mayo Rochester, which is a two-hour drive from where I live. And so, when I got to know about it literally me and my husband were like, “Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do?” It’s not just me, my husband is my caregiver, he has to take the day off to drive me to Mayo, wait through my treatment, and drive me back. Then we have boys who were distance learning at the time, and so what do we do with them? Do we drop off a friends or take a favor from a friend? And so on and so forth.

So, the logistics was an issue and we literally said, “Thanks but no thanks” and we walked out of the room. And we came downstairs, and my husband was like, “What the heck?” My team understands everything, and I fortunately work for a very good employer, and they understand everything, people first. And so, he was like, “I can figure this out. Let’s do it if this is what’s going to help you, then let’s just figure this out.” And at that time, it was so good, and I have total respect for Dr. Pollack.

You and everybody in this medical community. My doctor who leads the trial at Mayo, she actually said, “Why don’t you check with your local cancer center? Maybe they are also approved by FDA, and they may be able to administer this treatment to you.” Unfortunately, at that time they weren’t but we were like, “We’re going to go ahead with the trial. It doesn’t matter.” My husband was like, “I’ll take the day off, you don’t worry about it.” And then, four months later my institute did get approved by FDA, and so I was able to transfer from Mayo to my local cancer center, Abramson Cancer Center, which is 20 minutes from home. And so, there are options, I know that it can be an issue and it can be overwhelming at the time which was the case with me. But I was able to overcome that, so maybe there are options available that the patients can consider.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Dr. Pollack, do you have anything to add?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

No. I think the logistics and the location are real concerns with clinical trials.

Clinical trials do sometimes require you to have an extra visit, sometimes they’re a little bit less flexible in terms of when you can get your medication. If you’re getting a standard treatment your doctor may say, “It’s probably okay for you to wait an extra week.” Whereas sometimes on a clinical trial, not always, but sometimes they could be a little bit more strict about when you’re supposed to get certain things. And likewise, with the travel for some people that can be an issue. I mean, the clinical trial is not available everywhere. I mean, Sujata was very lucky that she was able to do the clinical trial she was doing close to home, but that doesn’t always happen. So, I think that’s an important thing to talk to your clinical team about.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Some patients feel that clinical trials aren’t safe, is that the case, Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

No. I mean, we go through, as I was saying before, these clinical trials are extensively vetted. So, the safety is, of course, one of the things that we look most carefully about. But as I was saying before, like with any treatment’s cancer treatments have toxicity, that’s a common problem. So, and when you’re dealing with something brand new sometimes there is a little bit more risk. So, when you’re talking about these very early-stage Phase I trials you probably want to talk to your doctor about what sorts of toxicities you can expect and where they are in the Phase I trial. Are you the first ever to receive this new drug? And if you are nobody’s making you go in the clinical trial, so it can only help to get more information. Right? So, you should ask your team about it, you should find out.

Most of the time there’s going to be a lot of patients that have been treated already, I mean, they can’t give you definitive data about how things are going but they can maybe say, “Hey. I’ve already treated a few patients on it, and they seem to be doing great.”

Katherine Banwell:    

So, you need to weigh the pros and cons of the trial.

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

You do need to weigh the pros and cons. Now, when you’re talking about these Phase IIs and Phase IIIs, I mean, these are drugs now that have really been vetted for their safety and we have a lot of data about it. And even the Phase Is, it’s not like these things are coming out of nowhere, they’ve been scrutinized, we really expect that they’re going to be safe but we’re doing the trial to prove it. So, it’s a good thing to ask about.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah, yeah.

Sujata Dutta:  

Yeah. I would also add that it’s so closely monitored that safety is a top priority, it’s front and center. So, the advantage, I think, with being on a trial is the close monitoring of the patient exactly for this reason.

If something is amiss it’s going to be picked up as quickly as possible and you’re any issues are going to be addressed as soon as. So, I think, safety does get addressed pretty quickly.

Katherine Banwell:    

Good, good. Okay. That’s good to know. Another concern is; I’ll get a placebo. Dr. Pollack, what is a placebo first of all? And is that true in a clinical trial setting?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

So, there are clinical trials with placebos, it’s a real thing. And what a placebo is, it’s a pill and it’s made to look just like the real pill, but it doesn’t have any active drug in it. Sometimes people say it’s a sugar pill, but it may or may not be sugar, but it’ll probably be something without a taste. But it’s an inert substance that is not going to affect you at all.

And your doctor won’t know whether you’re getting a placebo or not, so a lot of the times they’ll call these things double-blind because your doctor doesn’t know, your pharmacist doesn’t know. And to unblind you they have to go through special procedures to find out whether you’re on the studied drug or not.

Katherine Banwell:    

Would a placebo be given solely? Or would it be given in addition to this new drug that’s being tested?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. So, it’s unusual for a placebo to be given solely. Usually there’ll be a clinical trial where you’re getting the standard treatments plus the new drug or standard treatment plus the placebo, so no matter what you’re getting the standard treatments. There are still some trials where, and these are usually for patients with very advanced cancer, who there’s not really any treatment options that are good. Where they will randomize people to just be on the standard drug versus the placebo.

Sometimes what they’ll do is if they want to do a trial that’s the standard drug versus a placebo, they’ll do the imaging very frequently and they’ll have a crossover. So, a crossover means that everybody gets to be on the new drug, but some people will have to go on the placebo first. So, and then they watch you very closely. So, if you get randomized to go on the placebo and your cancer starts to grow, they figure it out very quickly and then they give you the opportunity to go on the new drug.

Katherine Banwell:    

I see, okay. I’ll be stuck in the trial forever and I can’t change my mind. Sujata, did that happen to you?

Sujata Dutta:  

No. I mean, when I finally agreed and signed the dotted line it was made very clear to me that it was voluntary, I was volunteering to be part of the trial and I could get out of the trial at any point of time. So, in my case I’m in Phase III of a trial, the first commitment was for two years and then the next was five years.

So, again, it sounds daunting to me right now, two years is coming to an end in July of this year. I’m like, “Wow! Two years are over already?” And then five years, I’m not thinking about that, but again, it was at any point I could just say that I’ve had enough, or whatever be the reason, I could get out of the trial. So, no. Yes. There’s an option.

Katherine Banwell:    

Can data from trials even be trusted? Dr. Pollack, is that the case?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Well, of course, I mean, it can be trusted. Because the thing with the clinical trial data is that you really see the data and there’s all kinds of scrutiny making sure that the data is reported accurately. Now, there’s a whole other conversation we could have as to whether we could interpret the data differently. And sometimes that is an issue that comes up, but the data is reported very accurately.

So, and there are statistics that are very well understood, and the bar is actually pretty high to say one arm of the trial was better than the other arm of the trial. So, if patients have better survival on one arm, if we say that, usually it means they did considerably better. Enough better that it wasn’t a random chance that one extra patient did better on the treatment arm. No. There were enough patients that did better that the statisticians can go through it with a fine-toothed comb. And they can be absolutely sure up to exactly how many percent sure they can tell you, 0.05 percent or less chance of error that this was a real difference between the study arm and the standard of care arm.

Sujata Dutta:  

I think you mentioned too that one is trust, and one is data. So, Dr. Pollack mentioned a lot about the data, I think the trust is also a very important thing. I like to go with positive intent because I do not have a reason to believe my doctor has some ulterior motive to suggest a clinical trial. And so, I trust them wholeheartedly. The first hurdle is you have to trust the system or what is being proposed to you because, as Dr. Pollack said, it’s gone through a lot of vetting. A recommendation to be part of a trial itself is vetted by your doctor when they make the recommendation. So, have faith, trust, that they are making a good recommendation. And then, of course, the data, I don’t know much about that, but as I said, I trust it. So, I would trust the data too.

Katherine Banwell:    

Of course. Of course. Some patients feel like they’re going to lose their privacy. Sujata, did you feel that at all?

Sujata Dutta:  

No. Not at all.

I mean, with everything else that is also taken care of, my information, or whatever, is not made available to anybody. And so, obviously there’s a lot of people will get those, and I had a huge pile of paperwork to go through, but I think that’s a good thing. For my peace of mind that I knew that my information was not going to be shared outside of the study, the trial, etc., and things. So, no, I don’t think that’s a problem.

Katherine Banwell:    

Beyond these misconceptions is there anything else you hear? Dr. Pollack?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Well, I hear a lot of people really interested in clinical trials. I mean especially, I treat some patients with rare cancers or with unusual presentations and I think people are very excited to be a part of something that could be new, that could be the next wave. A lot of times the clinical trials have new things with the most exciting science that could be the future of treatment.

So, I think a lot of people are excited about clinical trials. And I also hear some of the reservations that you’re expressing. I think usually when patients ask their questions are very straightforward and easy to address so that people can make their own decisions.

Katherine Banwell:    

Dr. Pollack, I’d like to go back to you and ask you the same question about privacy. Do patients need to be worried about that?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

No. I mean, look, in our crazy modern world there’s concerns everywhere, but the clinical trial is very, very careful. Whenever possible we use the medical chart.

And then, we have a very stringently protected database that’s storing people’s information, but it’s deidentified. So, I mean, we have a separate key to figure out who the patients are and then we try to limit the use of the patient’s name or any identifying information about them beyond that. So, and your information is not shared. For example, if there’s a drug company involved in the trial, your information is not shared with the drug company, you have a new identifier that is unique and not traceable back to you that is provided to whoever, if there’s outside groups working on the trial with you. So, your information is very carefully protected, and everyone is very conscious about issues regarding privacy.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s great to know. Sujata, there’s clearly a lot of hesitation and misconceptions out there. What would you say to someone who’s considering a trial but is hesitant?

Sujata Dutta:  

I would say speak to your provider, speak to your doctor, and get all these myths kind of busted to say, “it’s going to be expensive” or whatever those questions are. And then, through that process also try and understand what is it that the study is trying to achieve? How is that going to be beneficial to you? So, in my instance, it wasn’t the last line of defense, it was just one of the processes or combos that would help me. And so, that was important for me to understand and then a little bit of education as well. So, I was asking, I have questions on my phone every time I meet my provider, and I did the same thing. So, I think that one of the good practices is keep your note of your questions and have those questions ready. And no question is silly, all questions are important. So, ask as many questions as you can and use that opportunity to educate yourself about it.

And maybe you realize, “No. I don’t think it’s working for me” or “I don’t think this trial is good for me.” But it’s good, important, to have that conversation with your provider, that’s what I would recommend highly.

Katherine Banwell:    

Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Pollack, if someone is interested in participating, how can they find out about what trials are even available for them?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I mean, the best thing to do is to start just by asking your doctor if they know about any clinical trials. And a lot of the times the clinical trials are run at the big medical centers that may be closer to you, so you could ask your doctor if there’s any clinical trials at the big medical center even. Or I always think it’s good to get a second opinion, you could go get a second opinion at the big medical center that’s close to you and ask them what clinical trials are at your center.

And sometimes they’ll be conscious about some of the clinical trials that may be even run around the country. And you can ask about that as well.

Katherine Banwell:    

Would specialists have more information about clinical trials than say a general practitioner?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

So, I specialize in rare cancers, so a lot of the times the general practitioners they’ve got my cell phone number, and they text me, and they say, “Hey, do you have a clinical trial going on right now?” And that happens all the time, but yeah, the specialists will usually because frankly there’s so much to know. And the general practitioners really have a lot to keep track of with all the different types of diseases that are out there. Whereas at the big centers, the specialists, part of their job is really to keep their tabs on what’s going on with the clinical trials.

So, they’re good people to ask, either your local doctor could reach out to them, or you could go get a second opinion and ask.

Sujata Dutta:  

There’s also a lot of information, Katherine, on sites such as LLS, or PEN, or American Cancer Society that they also publish a lot of information. Of course, I would recommend once you have that information then vet it by your specialist, or whatever. But if you’re interested in knowing more about clinical trials in general and some that would work for you, then those are also some places to get information from.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s great information. Thank you, I was going to ask you about that Sujata. Well, before we end the program, Dr. Pollack, I’d like to get your final thoughts. What message do you want to leave the audience with related to clinical trial participation?

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Yeah. I think clinical trials it can be a very rewarding thing for a lot of patients to do, I think patients really like learning about the new treatments. And I think a lot of patients really like being a part of pushing the therapies forward in addition to feeling like sometimes they’re getting a little bit of an extra layer of scrutiny, because there’s a whole extra team of research coordinators that are going through everything.

And getting access to something that isn’t available yet to the general population. So, I think there’s a whole host of advantages of going on clinical trials, but you need to figure out whether or not a clinical trial is right for you.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Sujata, what would you like to add?

Sujata Dutta:  

Absolutely, I second everything that Dr. Pollack is saying. And in my personal experience I wouldn’t say everything is hunky-dory, everything is fine. I’m going through treatment, I have chemo every four weeks, I started with chemo every week. That’s when the logistics pace was really difficult because going to Mayo every week was not easy. But anyways, as the trial progress itself every four weeks, but as I said the benefits are huge because I have labs every four weeks. I meet my provider every four weeks.

So, we go through the labs and anything amiss, I’ve had some changes to my dosage because I’ve had some changes in the labs. And so, there’s a lot of scrutiny which I like, but the flip side, for maybe some maybe like, “I have to have chemo every four weeks. Do I want to do that or not?” Or whatever. In my case, I knew it, and I signed up for it, and I’m committed to doing that for two years. And so, I’m fine with that. So, I would say all in all, I’d see more benefits of being in a clinical trial. One, you’re motivated to give back to the community. Two, you are being monitored and so your health is important to your provider just as it is to you. And so, I highly recommend being part of a trial if it works for you and if you’re eligible for one.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah. Sujata Dutta, and Dr. Pollack, thank you both for taking the time to join us today.

Sujata Dutta:   

Thank you.

Dr. Seth Pollack:       

Thank you.

Katherine Banwell:    

And thank you to all of our partners. To access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell, thanks for joining us.  

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See More from Clinical Trials 101

How Can Care Partners Combat Burnout?

How Can Care Partners Combat Burnout? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia discuss how they have learned to overcome burnout. Often times when caring for a loved one, we don’t even realize the burnout until after the fact. As care partners, you have to know when to step away and take time for yourself, so you can effectively care for and support your loved one. 


Transcript

Diahanna:

Hello, we’re going to talk about care partner burnout. So the question I would like to pose is, how would you describe caregiver burnout? And how do you feel it coming on? And how can you counteract it? And Patricia or Sherea, either one of you can answer those questions, it would be great to hear from you.

Patricia:

Let me just start with, I have been a caregiver. Although I am right now experiencing multiple myeloma, my father had multiple myeloma and passed in 1990 and I was his caregiver. At that time, a very young person. So, he actually had to have part of his breast bone removed and they left the wound open, and it had to be pack everyday, twice a day with gauze and an iodine thing. And so, my mom could just not do it and my though was, well she can’t, I have to. So every morning before work, I would go and take care of him in that way. Every evening when I came home from work, before he went to bed, I would go over and do the same thing. And that went on for several months. Because I was young and because I really did not have any understanding of what as going on with my father. I mean multiple myeloma, what is that? Not like today. Today there is information. You know you go online, you can find the information. It worked out anyway that I was able to take care of him. I didn’t know that I even had a burnout cause I just continued to do what I was doing. I worked everyday, I had three kids, you jut do what you have to do and I think that’s what most caregivers get to a point of saying to themselves, “I’ll do what I have to do”. And whether they know they have burnout or not, they just do it.

Diahanna:

You know, I think that is very interesting, Patricia, because I think women have a tendency to do that more so than man because we are already maternal. We’re caregivers.

Patricia:

Yeah.

Diahanna:

And we, if someone else drops the ball, and you know we are used to being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, vacation or not. And so, we do always step in and tack up the slack and put ourselves on the back burner. A lot of the time we don’t realize we’re burnout until after the fact.

Patricia:

Way after.

Diahanna:

And we have no more energy. We have nothing else to give ourselves. So Sherea, how would you describe it? How would you look at this?

Sherea:

I would describe…I was a caregiver for my father, now I’m doing some caregiving for my mother who is having some memory issues. And what I can tell you about the feeling is, the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling of pressure, and what I notice with is that I have a short fuse. When I’m feeling burnout, things that normally would just not be a problem become an issue. And so, what I try to do is recognize that I’m having a moment and that I’m going to need to step away for a little bit and get recentered. And I do understand that yes, as women, we just do what we have to do, but there does come a point where you have just had it. You’re at the end of the rope. And I’m starting to recognize that more. So it is a feeling of pressure and just being overwhelmed. And the moment I start feeling it, it used to be I kind of just keep pushing, but now the moment I start feeling it, ok let’s work on that now so it doesn’t become an issue later.

Diahanna:

Mhmm. I can appreciate that. When I was taking care of my husband, I probably put myself in a position where I was taking care of him at times when he didn’t need to be taken care of. It was that thing as I felt I could do better or more for him that he probably didn’t know about or I thought he didn’t know about. And I was mistaken on that. It got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, I wasn’t eating well, and I was getting colds all the time, which I normally wouldn’t get. So my immune system, everything, was messed up as a result of what I was doing. And I remember coming home from work thinking I can’t do this anymore. If I’m going to be a partner to him, I have to step aside. And I called because I was going to every appointment, I was looking at everything, I was doing all the research because he thought he didn’t have to research as long as he felt good, everything was ok. He said, “I’m going to let you be the person that worries because I know you worry enough for the both of us.” And I did. I worried enough for everybody in the household and it was taking me down a path of being mentally, physically, emotionally stressed. And I had to step away and say, “Honey, I don’t need to go to all your appointments. I don’t need to continue to do this.” And that’s how I realized that I was doing way too much and that I was going to be doing a disservice to him – to everybody in my household.

Resources for New Care Partners

Resources for New Care Partners from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Sherea explains that you cannot move forward, unless you are able to acknowledge all the feelings that may come with the initial diagnosis of your loved one. Watch as care partners Diahanna, Sherea, and Patricia also share their tips and go-to online resources for new care partners.

Care Partner Profile: Mike Crocker

The first time Mike Crocker became a care partner was in 2016 when his wife Dr. Gerri Smoluk was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The second time was in 2020 when, after being in remission for four years, Gerri was diagnosed with leukemia again. The two experiences couldn’t have been more different, says Mike.

Gerri’s first diagnosis came shortly after she started a new job. Gerri, who had a PhD in biochemistry, worked in the pharmaceutical industry. She was feeling tired a lot, but she was brushing it off, blaming it on the stress that comes with a new job. However, Mike urged her to see a doctor, so Gerri had a coworker, who was also a doctor, check her out. The coworker sent Gerri directly to the emergency room. She was admitted and was in the hospital for 45 days undergoing chemotherapy. “She had a very severe case,” says Mike.

It was overwhelming to say the least, but Mike quickly took on the role of caregiver. He soon realized that the simple things were the most helpful. Mike made sure to bring Gerri some of the comforts of home. He made sure she had t-shirts and sweatshirts to wear instead of hospital gowns. He brought Gerri her laptop and yarn for crocheting. He brought her the few foods that she could actually taste after the chemo wiped out her taste buds. Mike was also her sounding board. He listened as she talked through her care options and how they would affect her quality of life. He was simply there for her, walking with her daily so she could get some exercise and maintain circulation, so she didn’t have to stay in bed with the compression sleeves on her legs. “I did all the little things that could help her be a little more in control and have as close to a normal day as possible,” says Mike adding that Gerri’s background in biochemistry and the pharmaceutical industry gave her unique insight into her care. “She started charting her tests and data so she could be a part of the solution and have informed discussions with doctors. She wanted details and wanted to know what to expect.”

Mike and Gerri learned that patients and care partners are given overwhelming amounts of information and that they have the responsibility of learning all they can and asking questions and making decisions. He says that doctors aren’t always keeping up with the latest research and that it is easy for them to get stuck in routine treatments. He found that doctors talk about options based on their experience and their skill set, but that doesn’t mean that approach is best for the patient. He says that being comfortable with the doctor and getting a second opinion if wanted are also important. He and Gerri learned to be active participants in her treatment and care.

In addition, Mike and Gerri were always looking ahead and focusing on the future. He concentrated on keeping her spirits up. When she was bald from chemo Gerri was looking at wigs and Mike says he encouraged her to go wild and get a bright red wig. “She didn’t go for it but being outrageous and adding humor to the moment was a way for me to help,” he says.

It was while she was in her fourth year of remission that Gerri found Patient Empowerment Network (PEN). “Gerri liked PEN’s focus on making the information understandable for patients, giving them easy-to-digest information to make decisions,” says Mike. Gerri jumped right in and helped to develop the Network Manager program which launched in March 2020. The program is made up of volunteers around the country who use their own patient experience to support patients and their care partners through their own cancer journey and on to a path to empowerment. “PEN is very important because it is patient-focused,” Mike says, and that’s why PEN appealed to Gerri. She liked that she could use her scientific background to help patients understand the information and to make sensible decisions for themselves. Gerri served as the AML Network Manager and was named a finalist for the 2020 Reuters Patient Champion Award in the Patient Advocate category.

Then in July 2020, Gerri got her second diagnosis. She celebrated her birthday July 7 and a week later, Gerri was back in the hospital. “This time she had a second type of leukemia which threw doctors for a loop,” says Mike. “Usually when leukemia patients relapse, it’s with the same type of leukemia.”

Although they had been through a leukemia diagnosis before, this experience was nothing like the first. “It was very different. It was during covid so of course, unlike before, when she could have friends drop in, she no longer could have visitors. Everything was more restrictive with covid,” says Mike. “At least I could be there every day.”

This time, Gerri and Mike were not expecting a longer hospital stay. They were expecting outpatient treatment that would be easier, and they were looking forward to time away from the hospital. The first time was so scary, but this time they were experienced, and they knew what to expect, but what they expected is not what happened.

After about a week Gerri got worse. Doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong, but they were unable to save her. Gerri died July 27, 2020. The autopsy revealed she had an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection.

More than a year later, Mike says he’s doing okay. “Everyone handles it differently,” he says. “You have to give yourself permission to not be happy and also give yourself permission to keep going and find other things to fill the hole.” In September 2021, he retired from his career as a web project manager, and recently he reached out to PEN looking for a way to use his skills to help others. “Gerri was the driver, so now I’ve been drifting,” he says. “That’s why I contacted PEN. I wanted to do something of value.”

Mike will be an invaluable addition to the PEN network of volunteers.

The Best Medical Alert Systems

Editor’s Note: This guide was originally published by AssistedLiving.org here.


Cancer in the elderly presents a great challenge. Their already vulnerable bodies become weaker as therapy wears them down, and they might even face dangers in their own home. They could fall or be too weak to react to call for help, so seniors and their families use senior care facilities, caregivers, adult centers, or other options to ensure their loved ones’ safety.

A medical alert system is one option. It is a valuable life-saving device and can protect seniors in emergencies, providing peace of mind for caregivers and loved ones.

To help buyers sift through their options, we’ve created this guide that compares 10 top providers based on the quality of their service, equipment options, cost, and overall value.


Medical alert systems are valuable life-saving devices. They can protect seniors in case of emergency while providing untold peace of mind for caregivers and loved ones. In studies, nine out of 10 subscribers reported that their medical alert system helped them maintain their independence.

Personal emergency response systems are often used for fall detection, but they can also provide a lifeline in case of medical emergencies related to diabetes, heart attack or stroke. Additionally, they can be activated in case of a fire or burglary. Medical monitoring companies can even help during unforeseen everyday situations as one subscriber discovered when she couldn’t get out of the tub.

Today, smartphones and voice-activated devices have created some alternatives for seniors who may need to contact a neighbor or relative in case of an emergency, but professionally monitored systems still have their benefits. No other system provides a direct link to trained operators or emergency contacts along with advanced features like GPS tracking.

Telephone-based monitoring companies emerged in the 1970s, and many providers have been providing services continuously since then. There are also some newcomers that focus on innovative algorithm-based technology and transparent pricing. In fact, more than 260 medical monitoring services are registered with the Better Business Bureau.

Helping Buyers Narrow Down Their Options

To help consumers sift through their options, we’ve created this guide that compares 10 of the top providers based on the quality of their service, equipment options, cost, and overall value. Each company was evaluated, ranked, and given a star rating, and the companies’ profiles give you a detailed look at the company’s ranking and offerings to help you see how these products might fit into your life. We’ve also created a consumer guide that outlines some of the most important purchasing considerations. Finally, we’ve answered some common questions to help you make an informed decision if you decide that a medical alert system is right for you.

How We Chose the Best Medical Alert Systems

One of the challenges of selecting the best medical alert companies is that, particularly on the surface, many of the deals appear similar. To get past this confusion, we identified several traits that the top providers share.

Monitoring Plans

Nearly all companies offer customers the choice of landline or cellular service for in-home monitoring as well as mobile devices equipped with GPS location tracking. Across the industry, it was common to see surcharges for fall detection, wellness calls and other premium features. If you’re interested in these services, be sure to add $5-$10 to the monthly fee per item when comparing plans.

Response Times

Comparing response times is one of the most effective ways to evaluate service quality. Some providers answered help calls in less than 20 seconds while others took as long as seven minutes. When determining service quality, we looked for companies with multiple U.S.-based call centers and professional operators who have received specialized training.

Reviews and Qualifications

Subscriber satisfaction is another important consideration. We cut one provider from our list because customers had trouble getting their money back after trying the service. Industry certifications from organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories and The Monitoring Association also gave us insight into the provider’s service quality.

Equipment Features

While many providers use nearly identical base units and pendants, we noticed some differences in the product’s battery life and signal range. We also considered the system’s audio quality, weight and appearance while giving preference to devices that were easy to use and maintain.

Ethics

Deceptive pricing schemes and hidden charges booted several companies off our list of contenders. Nearly all of our top picks have monthly service agreements with no long-term commitment, and many offer a 30-day money-back guarantee that gives customers an opportunity to try the service.

In addition to using the above criteria to select the top medical alert companies, we ranked the top twenty providers based on thirty different factors. Each company was awarded a star rating based on this analysis. For more information on our ranking process and the metrics used, read “A Full Explanation of Our Ranking Methodology.”

The 10 Best Medical Alert Companies

COMPANY BASE COST STARTING COSTS PLANS FEATURES STAR RATING
MobileHelp $19.95 — $44.95 $49.95 One-Time Fee +$15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Landline, Cellular, Bundle Fall Detection GPS Location Tracking 5.0/5
LifeFone $24.95 — $39.95 None Landline, Cellular, Bundle Fall Detection Medication Reminders Wellness Calls Caregiver Apps 4.6/5
Bay Alarm Medical $19.95 — $29.95 $99 device fee for mobile +$9.95 Shipping Landline, Cellular, Bundle Fall Detection Location Tracking Caregiver Tools 4.2/5
Medical Guardian $29.95 — $44.95 $124.95 device fee for Mini +$10 Shipping Waived with Annual Subscription Landline, Cellular Fall Detection GPS Location Tracking Caregiver App 4.1/5
GetSafe $24.95 $79-$229 equipment fee + $12 for Shipping Cellular Hands Free Voice-Activation Caregiver App 4.0/5
Medical Alert $22.95 — $37.95 $9.50 Shipping with Month-to-Month Plan Landline, Cellular Fall Detection Caregiver Apps 3.7/5
QMedic $30 — $45 None Landline, Cellular Activity Tracking GPS Location Tracking Caregiver Dashboard 3.7/5
BlueStar Senior Tech $23.95 — $35.95 None Landline, Cellular, Bluetooth Fall Detection Activity Monitoring Family and Mobile Apps 3.1/5
LifeStation $19.95 — $34.95 $50 Activation Fee for Mobile with GPS and Standard Payment Package Landline, Cellular Fall Detection GPS Location Tracking Caregiver Apps Alexa Integration 3.1/5
Lifenet $29.95 — $49.95 None Landline, Cellular Fall Detection GPS Location Tracking 2.65/5

MobileHelp: 5.0/5 Stars

Best for On-Demand Telehealth Services

MobileHelp is an industry leader offering six medical alert systems with numerous premium features and accessories available. While its low prices for high-quality services is noteworthy on its own, MobileHelp recently made their offerings even more useful with the introduction of MDLIVE. MDLIVE is an on-demand telehealth service that allows MobileHelp users to speak with a board-certified physician via phone or video without scheduling an appointment or paying a copay. All MobileHelp customers may add MDLIVE to their service plan for under $10 per month.

MobileHelp’s Star Rating

MobileHelp earned a perfect 5-star rating and ranked first among the top 20 medical alert companies we reviewed. Its number-one spot cannot be attributed to just one thing. MobileHelp scored highly in all ranking categories, and particularly excelled in the In-Home Systems, Mobile Systems, and Reliability and Reputation categories, earning a perfect 10 in all three. MobileHelp’s in-home system is the least expensive of all companies we reviewed, and it is one of the very few companies that does not charge an extra fee for a cellular version. In addition, MobileHelp offers a generous free-trial period of 30 days and is extremely transparent about its pricing and policies on its website.

Highlights

  • MobileHelp devices have earned a Good Manufacturing Practice seal from the FDA.
  • The brand’s medical alert systems have multiple third-party quality certifications.
  • MobileHelp is based in Florida and serves customers in all 50 states.
  • Dispatch services are provided by Rapid Response, one of the nation’s top monitoring companies.
  • LanguageLine connects callers to interpreters specializing in more than 240 languages.
  • According to company data, MobileHelp answers an emergency call every eight minutes.
  • The company is an accredited BBB member with an A+ rating.

The Takeaway

Whether you’re shopping for in-home or remote coverage, MobileHelp is a strong contender. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a budget-friendly package that you can share with a partner or spouse. The company offers a suite of free and paid caregiver tools through MobileHelp Connect as well as a line of attractive jewelry-style pendants made by Trelawear.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
MobileHelp Classic $19.95 $49.95 One-Time Fee and $15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Cellular 1,300′ Console: 30 Hours
Pendant: 5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
MobileHelp Wired Home $24.95 $15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Landline 1,300′ Console: 30 Hours
Pendant: 5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
MobileHelp Solo $37.95 $15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Cellular Nationwide 24 Hours GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection
MobileHelp Duo $41.95 $15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Cellular Nationwide Varies GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection
Mobile Duo $44.95 $15 Shipping with Month-to-Month Payment Cellular Nationwide 24 Hours GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection
MobileHelp Touch $49.95 $15 Shipping with Semi-Annual Payment Cellular Nationwide 24 hours; 12-hour backup for tablet GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection

What Customers Like

Adult children researching medical alert systems for their parents repeatedly comment on MobileHelp’s reputation and number of positive online reviews. A son who subscribed for his parents said, “Several reputable entities rated MobileHelp highly in the field. Mobilehelp had 2,300+ reviews with a 4.6/5 rating overall.” Others talk about the exceptional service, including one son who stated “Great customer service from ordering to monitoring.”

Learn more about how to get a Medical Alert System from MobileHelp.

What Customers Don’t Like

In the rare complaints about MobileHelp service, subscribers most often cite difficulties canceling a subscription. A problem with the GPS identifying an incorrect location is another concern reported by customers.


LifeFone: 4.6/5 Stars

Best for Industry Experience

Based in White Plains, New York, LifeFone has specialized in medical alert services since the 1970s, and it continues to be one of the nation’s leading providers. LifeFone is a top choice for seniors seeking in-home or mobile coverage, and its two-in-one package is a great value. This enduring brand excels in all areas, which is why it’s been recognized by Harvard Medical School, Consumers Digest and review sites such as TrustPilot.

LifeFone’s Star Rating

LifeFone ranked second-highest among the top medical alert systems, with an almost-perfect score of 4.6/5 stars. LifeFone scored in the top 30% in all ranking categories, but particularly excelled in Availability of Add-Ons with a score of 10.0. LifeFone was one of only two companies to offer all of the add-ons for which we evaluated, including less-common features like medication reminders and activity tracking. LifeFone also scored highly thanks to its consumer-friendly policies, including a 30-day money-back guarantee, $0 activation fees, and a price-lock guarantee that prevents future rate hikes.

Highlights

  • LifeFone has been endorsed by the National Council on Aging and WebMD.
  • New customers can take advantage of a 30-day trial.
  • Helpful dispatchers respond to calls in approximately one minute.
  • The company’s monitoring centers aren’t certified, but the brand has substantial experience.
  • LifeFone has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Free basic protection is available for spouses.

The Takeaway

Established providers sometimes lose their competitive edge, but LifeFone holds its own by offering a comfortable balance of quality and value. Its equipment performs well, and its fee structure allows subscribers to save money or purchase optional upgrades, such as daily wellness checks, scheduled phone calls or medication reminders. In each area, LifeFone provides the level of service that we expect from a top-tier provider.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
At-Home Landline $29.95 None Landline 1,300′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 2—5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
At-Home Cellular $34.95 None Cellular 1,300′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 2—5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
At-Home & On-The-Go With GPS $36.95 None Cellular 600′ (Home), 350′ (Mobile) 30 Hours Optional Fall Detection
GPS Location Tracking
At-Home & On-The-Go Necklace $43.95 None Cellular Nationwide 30 Days (Standby) Optional Fall Detection
GPS Location Tracking

What Customers Like

Subscribers and their family members frequently mention the positive experiences they have interacting with LifeFone customer service reps and call center operators. One daughter wrote, “I couldn’t ask for a better customer service. It was excellent. And if I have any questions, I don’t think twice about picking up the phone, calling and asking.” Customers also recommend the service and appreciate the security it provides.

What Customers Don’t Like

The sensitivity of the device and a somewhat slow response time are drawbacks mentioned by some reviewers. Other issues subscribers report are the equipment’s limited range and a lack of tech support on weekends.


Bay Alarm Medical: 4.2/5 Stars

Best for Overall Value

Bay Alarm is a longstanding security and medical alert company with more than 70 years of experience. The California-based company offers quality equipment and reliable nationwide service at a competitive price. However, packages that offer Bay Alarm Medical’s industry-leading devices and accessories together at an affordable rate are one of the brand’s strengths. Its systems are available as standalone products or in premium packages, which include additional features and add-on devices for a low, bundled cost. These packages make Bay Alarm Medical’s high-quality devices even more affordable, offering consumers incredible value. And when it comes to monitoring credentials, Bay Alarm Medical is among the best. The company operates three U.S.-based call centers that are certified by The Monitoring Association and meet UL standards.

Bay Alarm Medical’s Star Rating

Bay Alarm Medical earned a star rating of 4.2/5, making it the third-highest rated medical alert company out of the 22 we ranked and reviewed. The company scored highly in the In-Home Systems and Mobile Systems categories due to its low device prices. In both categories, Bay Alarm Medical offered the least expensive device. Bay Alarm Medical earned its highest score in the Reliability and Reputation category, which can be primarily attributed to its A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, extremely well-designed and informative website, and very quick average response time of 10 seconds.

Highlights

  • Bay Alarm Medical is an established company owned by one of the nation’s leading security companies.
  • Bay Alarm Medical’s monitoring centers meet the industry’s highest quality standards as defined by UL and TMA.
  • Discounts are available to members of AARP, USAA and other national organizations.
  • Bay Alarm Medical offers a risk-free 30-day trial, and subscribers can cancel at any time.
  • Spouses receive free coverage.

The Takeaway

If you want protection that covers you at home and on the go, Bay Alarm Medical offers some of the best bundled rates in the industry. However, the company does have a $10 surcharge for cellular service. Bay Alarm Medical devices give you access to emergency response teams at home, on the road, and nearly anywhere nationwide. Additionally, customers enjoy the peace of mind of working with an industry leader.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
In-Home $19.95 $9.95 Shipping Landline (+$10 for Cellular) 1,000′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
In-Car $29.95 $9.95 Shipping Cellular N/A N/A Crash Detection
Caregiver App
Mobile $24.95 $99 device purchase fee + $9.95 Shipping Cellular Nationwide 72 Hours Optional Fall Detection Optional GPS Location Tracking
SOS Smartwatch $24.95 $179 device purchase fee + $9.95 Shipping Cellular Nationwide 18-24 Hours Built-in Step Tracker Touchscreen Two-Way Communication

What Customers Like

Bay Alarm Medical’s knowledgeable, patient staff receives overwhelmingly positive feedback. One reviewer shared, “The rep was very helpful. [He] took his time so I could understand everything he was telling me. He spoke very clear and was very polite.” Reviewers also appreciate Bay Alarm’s ease of installation and range of choices. According to one subscriber, “It was easy to set up, great options and features, easy to configure for our needs … .”

What Customers Don’t Like

There are few subscriber complaints about Bay Alarm. The only issues reported concern batteries losing charge too quickly, contradictory instructions about how to correctly charge the devices and moderately long hold times when contacting customer service.


Medical Guardian: 4.1/5 Stars

Best Customer Service

Medical Guardian offers customers six high-quality medical alert device options, including the advanced Freedom Guardian smartwatch. While its wide variety of device options and reputation of reliability would make Medical Guardian a standout company on its own, its top-of-the-line customer service makes Medical Guardian an even more appealing option for buyers. Medical Guardian strives to assist customers every step of the way, from helping them determine which device is the best option for them to providing ongoing support after purchase. The dedicated Customer Care Team is available via phone and live chat to assist customers with any of their needs.

Medical Guardian’s Star Rating

Medical Guardian ranked among the top four of the medical alert companies we reviewed, with a score of 4.1/5  stars. The company scored highly in all categories and excelled in the Availability of Add-Ons metrics. Medical Guardian offers almost all of the add-on devices we researched, including sought-after activity tracking and real-time location tracking. The company also received above-average ratings in the In-Home Systems, Mobile Systems, and Extra Costs categories, contributing to its all-around high score.

Highlights

  • Medical Guardian maintains five core values for its business practices: Customers Above all Else, Innovation as our Motivation, Passion for Purpose, Building Meaningful Relationships, and Excellence in Results
  • Medical Guardian’s monitoring center is certified by the Underwriters’ Laboratory, Factory Manual Approved, and The Monitoring Association 5-Diamond Certified.
  • Medical Guardian is a member of the Electronic Security Association, acknowledging the company’s commitment to providing excellent service in emergencies.
  • All customers receive a free Welcome Kit that includes many helpful items such as a detailed user manual and an EMT information card.
  • Medical Guardian’s emergency monitoring services are available in all 50 states, and operators are 100% U.S.-based.
  • The company maintains an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

The Takeaway

With six device offerings spanning basic in-home systems to the technologically-advanced smartwatch device, Medical Guardian has a system that will meet almost anyone’s needs. Combined with its commitment to customer support and very detailed website, including a helpful Product Quiz feature to help prospective customers determine which device is best for them, Medical Guardian will be a particularly good choice for first-time buyers of medical alert systems.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
Classic Guardian $29.95 $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Landline 1,300′ 32-hour backup Optional fall detection
Home Guardian $34.95 $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Cellular 600′ 30-hour backup Optional fall detection
Active Guardian $39.95 $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Mobile Nationwide 5 days GPS Location Tracking Optional Fall Detection
Mini Guardian $39.95 $124.95 one-time equipment fee $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Mobile Nationwide 5 days GPS+WiFi+Triangulation Location Tracking Optional Fall Detection
Mobile Guardian $44.95 $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Mobile Nationwide 24 hours GPS Location Tracking
Freedom Guardian Smartwatch $44.95 $299.95 one-time equipment fee $10 Shipping (waived with annual payment) Mobile Nationwide 2 days Advanced Location Tracking Text-to-Speech Messaging Reminders and Alerts Low Battery Notification

What Customers Like

Current and past Medical Guardian customers speak highly of their experience with the company’s products and services. Many mentioned the great customer service and customer service agents’ willingness to assist them, with one happy customer describing the “Outstanding services. Excellent customer services.” Another happy customer, whose mother uses a Medical Guardian device, said “I cannot say enough good things about Medical Guardian… Great staff answering her call. Very professional, and reassuring! I highly recommend them!”

What Customers Don’t Like

Some customers have expressed dissatisfaction with their experience returning their Medical Guardian device and canceling service. Unsatisfied reviewers were surprised by the restocking fee of $50 that Medical Guardian charges upon return, and by the $15 they had to pay for return shipping.


GetSafe: 4.0/5 Stars

Best for Simple, Hands-Free Protection

GetSafe takes a different approach to emergency monitoring than other companies in the medical alert industry. Unlike essentially all other medical alert systems which have a wearable component, GetSafe is an entirely hands-free system (though a wearable is included for those who prefer to have a personal alert button on their body). Many seniors and their families say that the biggest barrier to emergency protection is getting their loved one to remember or be willing to wear the device every day. GetSafe eliminates this problem by using a combination of voice-activated systems and emergency buttons placed throughout the user’s home, so there’s no need to remember to put on a pendant or wristband each day. GetSafe’s unique approach to monitoring can be the perfect option for those who haven’t had luck with traditional medical alert systems in the past.

GetSafe’s Star Rating

GetSafe rounds out the top five medical alert companies with a score of 4.0/5. While its starting costs can be high, especially for its more comprehensive systems, the monthly monitoring fee is among the lowest of all companies we reviewed. In addition to earning a 9.0/10 in the In-Home Systems category for its low monthly cost, GetSafe scored highly in the Availability of Add-Ons ranking. All GetSafe users and their families can access an accompanying mobile app for $5 a month, and wall buttons are included with every service package. GetSafe earned its highest score in the Reliability and Reputation category with one of the fastest average emergency call response times (10 seconds) and an easy-to-navigate website with a helpful live-chat feature.

Highlights

  • All GetSafe systems are hands-free.
  • GetSafe offers one of the lowest monthly monitoring rates.
  • The system is easy to install and the GetSafe website features helpful installation videos, meaning no installation fees for the customer.
  • The certified monitoring center is U.S.-based and operates 24/7.
  • GetSafe offers a risk-free 30-day trial.

The Takeaway

GetSafe helps fill a hole in the medical alert industry for those for whom wearing a device every single day just isn’t possible. Its products are perfect for seniors who want protection in their home without having to remember a wearable device. GetSafe currently does not offer any mobile devices, so it isn’t suitable for those looking for on-the-go emergency coverage. While startup costs can be high, especially for larger service packages, the low monthly monitoring fee helps keep costs reasonable overall.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
Starter $24.95 $79 Equipment Cost Cellular 20 feet voice range; 1,000 feet pendant range 32-hour Backup Completely Hands-Free
Optional Fall Detection
Standard $24.95 $149 Equipment Cost Cellular 20 feet voice range; 1,000 feet pendant range 32-hour Backup Completely Hands-Free
Optional Fall Detection
Select $24.95 $229 Equipment Cost Cellular 20 feet voice range; 1,000 feet pendant range 32-hour Backup Completely Hands-Free
Optional Fall Detection

What Customers Like

Customer reviews for GetSafe skew positive, with one customer describing the company as “very easy to deal with.” Another reviewer appreciates the “Step by step guidelines on what and how to do what you need” that GetSafe provides.

What Customers Don’t Like

Most negative reviews for GetSafe found online are from the company’s time as a home security system retailer, so it’s possible the same concerns will not apply for medical alert customers. A common issue among unhappy reviewers was payment processing problems.


Medical Alert: 3.9/5 Stars

Best for Quality Service With Annual Discounts

Medical Alert is one of the nation’s largest PERS providers. It’s owned by Connect America, a national company that operates several monitoring firms. Medical Alert offers customers the choice of monthly, semiannual, and annual billing agreements with no long-term commitment. In addition to receiving discounts that can bring monthly costs below $20, customers who select an annual or semiannual plan get extra benefits, such as free shipping and a lockbox that can help emergency responders enter your home. Optional fall detection is available with all plans for a monthly fee.

Medical Alert’s Star Rating

Medical Alert earned a star rating of 3.9/5, making it the sixth-highest rated medical alert company of the top twenty we reviewed. Medical Alert offers quality devices at a low cost compared to other top companies, as demonstrated by its very high scores in the Extra Costs, In-Home Systems, and Mobile Systems categories. In all three categories, Medical Alert ranks the second-highest with scores of 9.0 or higher. Its monthly rates for its mobile and in-home systems are among the lowest in the industry, and the costs go down even further when paid for on a semiannual or annual basis. Medical Alert also keeps startup costs to a minimum, only charging a small shipping fee and no other one-time device, activation, or installation fees.

Highlights

  • Medical Alert serves customers in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
  • UL-certified monitoring centers employ bilingual agents who are fluent in English and Spanish.
  • Caregivers can take advantage of the 365Access app, which includes location tracking and notification tools.
  • Specially trained SIA-certified operators answer calls in 30 seconds or less and stay on the line until help arrives.
  • Medical Alert offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

The Takeaway

This Connect America company is impressive with its customer-focused features that benefit seniors and caregivers. It answers calls promptly, provides professional service and rewards loyal subscribers by offering semiannual and annual billing discounts. The company also offers a range of vanity pendants that resemble designer jewelry.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
At-Home Landline $22.95 $9.50 Shipping with Month-to-Month Plan Landline 1,300′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 2—5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
At-Home No Landline $32.95 $9.50 Shipping with Month-to-Month Plan Cellular 1,300′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 2—5 Years
Optional Fall Detection
At-Home & On-The-Go Package $37.95 $9.50 Shipping with Month-to-Month Plan Cellular 600′ (Home), 350′ (Mobile) Varies GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection
On the Go $37.95 $9.50 Shipping with Month-to-Month Plan Cellular Nationwide 5 Days (30 Days Standby) GPS Location Tracking
Optional Fall Detection

What Customers Like

Many subscribers find that Medical Alert gives them greater security and peace of mind. They also appreciate the friendliness of the staff, and the company’s fast response when help is needed. One woman shares, “I’ve had Medical Alert for about 12 years … Their reps have all been nice. When I fell in the bathroom, I called them and they answered right away.”

What Customers Don’t Like

A lengthy wait for customer service assistance is one of the few downsides mentioned in reviews of Medical Alert. Other subscribers cite the weight of the device and how easy it’s activated as disadvantages.


QMedic: 3.7/5 Stars

Best for Innovative Features

Created by MIT scientists, Boston-based QMedic has taken medical alert technology to the next level. It provides a user-friendly experience for seniors along with advanced features geared toward tech-savvy caregivers. One of the brand’s most unique services is compliance monitoring, which detects whether or not the user is actually wearing their medical alert device. Caregivers also have access to an online dashboard which provides a visual overview of the subscriber’s activity levels, including periods of sleep or activity. Automatic alerts notify caregivers when unusual patterns are detected, and algorithms may trigger automatic wellness calls. This system is designed to prevent false alarms while providing enhanced peace of mind. Although QMedic is developing fall-detection features, its approach emphasizes the value of nonintrusive activity tracking and passive monitoring.

QMedic’s Star Rating

QMedic earned a score of 3.7/5 stars. Its place in the top ten best medical alert providers can largely be attributed to its advanced device features including compliance monitoring and generous discounts for annual subscribers. Though its devices are priced above the industry average when paid for monthly, the annual rates reduce the overall cost by up to $140 per year. And while QMedic has less industry experience than some competitors with 10 years in the medical alert space, its informative and user-friendly website, free trial period, and A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau contributed to a high score in the Reliability and Reputation category.

Highlights

  • QMedic is a leader in passive medical monitoring.
  • The company uses proprietary tracking technology developed by MIT experts.
  • Alert systems offer excellent performance and onboard self-testing tools that minimize maintenance requirements.
  • Calls are routed to two U.S.-based monitoring centers that respond in 30 seconds on average.
  • Contracted monitoring centers in Utah and Idaho are certified by UL and TMA.
  • QMedic supports active or proactive alerts in addition to wellness calls.
  • The service is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The Takeaway

This service stands out for its user-friendly products, no-nonsense pricing and innovative technology. We like the simple interface and onboard self-testing function, which provides enhanced peace of mind. However, seniors may need to partner with a relative to take full advantage of QMedic’s suite of activity tracking tools.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
In-Home $30 None Landline/Cellular 1,000′ 2 Years Activity Tracking
Self-Testing
Mobile GPS $45 None Cellular Nationwide 14 Days GPS Location Tracking

What Customers Like

QMedic is highly rated for its reliability and advanced features. Family members in particular appreciate being alerted to unusual sleep or activity patterns, or when their loved one isn’t wearing the device. The uncomplicated set up is also a plus; as one reviewer says, “Set up is really easy. In a nutshell, it’s plug, test and play!”

What Customers Don’t Like

The only downside mentioned in reviews of QMedic is the lack of an automatic fall detection option for use at home or when on the go.


BlueStar Senior Tech: 3.1/5

Best for Customized Service Plans

BlueStar Senior Tech is a veteran-owned business that has provided medical monitoring and personal emergency response systems for more than 20 years. The company offers a wide selection of equipment and service plans at a variety of price points. While the brand’s expansive product catalog adds to the complexity of the decision-making process, BlueStar Senior Tech is “committed to providing a customized approach to [its] customers.” It does not believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to emergency medical monitoring, and will work with prospective and active users to find a device and plan that meets their specific needs.

BlueStar Senior Tech’s Star Rating

BlueStar Senior Tech’s star rating of 3.1/5 makes it the eighth-highest rated of the top 20 medical alert companies. The company received a score of 9.0/10 in the Availability of Add-Ons category, offering almost all common add-ons and some less-common features including on-demand location information and medication reminders. While its prices for in-home medical alert systems and shipping are higher than average, its large selection of devices and add-ons helps ensure that all BlueStar Senior Tech customers are able to build a service plan that fully meets their needs. It also offers military discounts to help make its devices more affordable for veterans and their spouses.

Highlights

  • Blue Star Service Solutions is a full member of the Medical Alert Monitoring Association.
  • The company offers military discounts and supports a variety of nonprofits that serve veterans.
  • Mobile and in-home systems have two-way voice capabilities and support advanced features, including fall detection.
  • Some devices can communicate with health monitoring systems, medical devices and smartphone apps.
  • Blue Star offers a selection of value-added features, including caregiver dashboards and severe weather alerts.
  • Mobile pendants are waterproof and resist extreme temperatures.

The Takeaway

Blue Star offers a wide selection of unique products ranging from basic in-home systems to portable GPS-enabled panic buttons and stylish BellPal watches that can interact with an emergency app on your smartphone. The company sells self-monitored systems and offers some unique features for caregivers. Rates are competitive, and there are options for every lifestyle.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
Sentry $23.95 None Landline 600′ 24 Hours w/o Power
SafeGuard $27.95 None Cellular 600′ 36 Hours w/o Power Fall Detection
Family App
Ranger 4G $31.95 None Cellular Nationwide 40 Hours (Standby) Fall Detection
GPS Location Tracking
Mobile App
Admiral Alert $35.95 None Cellular Nationwide 48 Hours Fall Detection
Mobile App
BellPal Watch $9.95 $199.95 Equipment Fee Bluetooth (Requires Smartphone) Nationwide 6 Months Fall Detection
Mobile App

What Customers Like

Reviewers consistently cite Blue Star Senior Tech’s affordable cost, quick response time and polite, knowledgeable operators. Many appreciate that the company is veteran-owned and reliable; as one woman says, “I recommend it to anybody that’s been in the military. They go beyond the call of duty. When they tell you they’re going to do something, they do it.”

What Customers Don’t Like

Subscribers report issues with the range on the mobile device and problems with the accuracy of the GPS locator. Being sent a mobile system instead of a landline equipment was another problem noted by a customer.


LifeStation: 3.1/5 Stars

Best for Caregiver Support

LifeStation has more than 40 years in the medical monitoring business. The brand’s mobile systems include GPS and Wi-Fi tracking capabilities as part of its Find My Loved One feature. “Find My Loved One” allows caregivers to locate the exact location of their loved one’s device on-demand, providing peace of mind for caregivers and other loved ones. As of 2020, LifeStation devices are compatible with Amazon Alexa systems, so caregivers can use their Alexa device to access their loved one’s location and other crucial device information. And with a 24/7 customer service line, LifeStation agents are available around-the-clock to support caregivers with any questions or concerns they have involving their loved one’s medical alert monitoring.

LifeStation’s Star Rating

LifeStation earned a star rating of 3.1/5 stars, making it the ninth-highest rated company out of 22 total contenders. LifeStation received above-average scores in most ranking categories, but its highest was for Availability of Add-Ons. LifeStation offers many of the add-on services and devices we included in our evaluation, including location information on-demand, fall detection, and a device protection plan. And, LifeStation’s in-home and mobile devices were both among some of the least expensive of the companies we ranked.

Highlights

  • LifeStation uses UL- and TMA-certified monitoring centers.
  • Emergency calls are handled by accent-neutral operators based in the United States.
  • Interpretation services support more than 240 languages depending on your preferences.
  • There’s no contract, and customers who cancel in the first 30 days receive a full refund minus shipping.
  • LifeStation’s tracking service uses GPS, Wi-Fi and algorithms to pinpoint the subscriber’s location.
  • LifeStation provides caregiver tools and integrates with Amazon Alexa.

The Takeaway

In an industry where companies sometimes seem like clones, LifeStation has gone out of its way to develop value-added features and caregiver monitoring functions that separate it from the competition. Response times average around 20 seconds, and best of all, its rates are competitive, especially given the quality of the service.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
In-Home Traditional $21.95 None Landline 500′ Console: 36 Hours
Pendant: 4 Years
Optional Fall Detection
In-Home Plus $30.95 None Cellular 500′ Console: 36 Hours
Pendant: 4 Years
Optional Fall Detection
Mobile with GPS $37.95 $50 Activation Fee with Standard Payment Package Cellular Nationwide 5 Days Optional Fall Detection
GPS Location Tracking

What Customers Like

Customers consistently praise LifeStation’s patient, courteous staff and the system’s ease of use. One subscriber who installed the system for his elderly parents commented, “The LifeStation team is amazing! Every person I spoke to from the initial call through shipping, setup and testing were so helpful and patient.”

What Customers Don’t Like

The few negatives subscribers report include being charged before the service is activated and difficulties switching plans and returning equipment. The length of time it takes to get a refund when canceling the service was another issue noted.


Lifenet Medical Alert Systems: 2.6/5 Stars

Best for Transparent Pricing

Founded in 2008, Lifenet is a relative newcomer to the industry, and the company impresses with its refreshingly transparent pricing system. Lifenet doesn’t have activation fees or hidden charges. Customers can choose from monthly service plans as well as quarterly and annual options with discounted rates. On top of that, seniors have the freedom to cancel at any time. The company even offers prorated refunds, which is virtually unheard of in the telecom and security industries.

Lifenet’s Star Rating

Lifenet’s transparent pricing model greatly contributed to its star rating of 2.6/5 stars. Though its monthly monitoring costs are higher than the industry average and its offerings somewhat limited, making for lower scores in most ranking categories, Lifenet earned a perfect 10.0/10 score in the Extra Costs category. The only extra cost that Lifenet users will ever face is shipping, which is less than $10. There are no device, activation, or installation fees, and fall detection is even included in the monthly cost for Lifenet’s mobile device. The company’s consumer-friendly cancellation and refund policies also helped Lifenet earn its place in the top ten medical alert companies.

Highlights

  • Lifenet uses 100% U.S.-based monitoring centers that are certified by the Electronic Security Association.
  • Subscribers can customize their emergency response plan and make changes at any time with no additional fee.
  • Add-ons, such as daily wellness calls and extra help buttons, are available for a nominal fee.
  • In-home equipment has an excellent transmission range and long battery life.
  • Lifenet medical monitoring is available in Canada and all 50 states.
  • The company offers shipping, returns and activation at no charge.
  • Call-center operators include EMT-certified medical professionals.

The Takeaway

Lifenet’s base rates are slightly higher than the competition, but there are no hidden fees. With this company, what you see is what you get. Lifenet is a strong choice for seniors seeking reliable service without hidden fees or sales gimmicks.

PLAN MONTHLY PRICE STARTING COSTS SERVICE RANGE BATTERY LIFE EXTRA FEATURES
Home & Garden $29.95 None Landline 1,000′ Console: 32 Hours
Pendant: 4 Years
N/A
Home & Away $49.95 None Cellular Nationwide N/A Fall Detection
GPS Location Tracking

What Customers Like

Lifenet subscribers talk about the company’s fast response time, and the peace of mind that having the service provides. The patient, knowledgeable staff is also commented on. “You went above and beyond to help me. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and explain everything to me,” shares one customer.

What Customers Don’t Like

There are few negatives reported about Lifenet. One reviewer who subscribed for a parent found the system somewhat difficult to set up, even with phone assistance from a company representative.


How to Choose a Medical Alert System

Two key considerations when choosing a medical alert system are the type of coverage and extent of protection it provides. In-home systems provide coverage throughout your house and in the yard. Mobile systems offer coverage when you’re on the go. They use a combination of cell phone service and GPS satellites to maintain a constant link between emergency dispatchers and subscribers anywhere in the nation. Mobile and in-home systems are quite specialized, so it’s important to think about the type of coverage you need and what kind of system will work in your environment. Doing so can help you determine which of the following types of systems you need:

  • Landline system. Most in-home medical alert systems connect to your existing phone line using a standard telephone jack. They also work with VoIP service. However, this option may not be as reliable.
  • Cellular or mobile system. Cellular systems are ideal for mobile use as well as homes that don’t have a landline. The SIM card is provided by the company, so there’s no extra fee. However, average rates tend to be higher.
  • Dual system. Combination systems use separate at-home and mobile devices to provide complete protection no matter where you are. They’re also suitable for sharing with a spouse.

Defining the type of system you need is just the starting point. To ensure that you pick the right medical alert system, you also need to:

Consider Base Units, Pendants and Help Buttons

Equipment and device options are fairly standard across the industry, but you still have some choices to make. Most systems have limited aesthetic appeal, and there’s minimal variety between manufacturers. Here are a few of the most common options you can choose from:

  • In-home base units feature an emergency help button, paging functions and built-in speakers that allow seniors to communicate with dispatchers in case of an emergency.
  • Emergency response pendants are designed to be carried with you at all times, even in the shower. Devices can be worn like a watch or necklace, and there’s a belt-clip option for men.
  • Optional wall- or surface-mounted help buttons that you can place in the bathroom, near a nightstand, in the basement or in other areas where falls are common.
  • Jewelry-style pendants are a newer option available through several providers. They tend to have a shorter transmission range and battery life, but they’re remarkably discreet.
  • Most mobile monitoring devices resemble a small flip phone or pager. These systems can be carried in your pocket, clipped on your waistband or stored in a purse.

Factor in Audio Quality When Selecting Equipment

Audio quality is a make-or-break feature. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to gauge the system’s volume until you have the unit in your house. Sound levels for most in-home systems range from 60 to 80 decibels, which can affect your ability to communicate with operators, especially from a distance. If you have hearing concerns, it’s important to select a provider that offers a 30-day money-back guarantee in case the system doesn’t meet your needs.

Investigate Battery Life

Battery life is another important consideration that can influence your choice of system and devices. Here are some factors to consider:

  • In-home base units plug into a standard electrical outlet and are equipped with emergency battery packs. If you live in an area that’s prone to power outages or severe weather, select a model that provides at least 30 hours of backup power.
  • Traditional push-button pendants and wristbands use stable lithium-ion batteries that may last up to 7 years depending on the model. Some providers even measure battery levels during self-tests and send replacements as needed.
  • Mobile devices with advanced features, such as two-way voice communication and GPS tracking, may need recharging every few days or weeks depending on the system’s design and features.

To help you compare the available options, you should also ask yourself how often you want to recharge your device. Do you prefer simple features if they extend the battery life, or are you comfortable recharging the device often so that you’re protected when you’re driving, traveling and running errands?

Think About Service Plans

Medical alert companies typically sell their monitoring service for a fixed monthly rate and provide customers with equipment to use during that time. Most providers offer basic packages for one price and à la carte upgrades at an additional cost. For example, with an in-home system, you’ll receive a base unit and a wristband or neck pendant. If you want extra pendants or help buttons, you’ll typically pay $3-$5 extra per button, per month. Understanding what you get with a plan and the extras you need makes it easier to compare offerings and prices from different companies.

Basic plans generally include:

  • Cellular service for in-home or mobile systems
  • One base unit for in-home plans
  • The first pendant or wristband

With most providers, you pay extra for:

  • Landline phone service
  • Equipment that’s lost or damaged
  • Additional help buttons or pendants

Compare Fee Structures and Pricing Plans

In the past, some companies locked customers into ironclad three-year contracts that could only be canceled in extreme situations, such as nursing home placement. Mercifully, the industry has moved away from this model. Most top-rated providers offer month-to-month service agreements that you can cancel at any time, and there are no penalties as long as you return the equipment.

If you sign up for quarterly or annual billing, many companies give you a discount and extra benefits, such as free device protection or a lockbox for emergency responders. Just make sure that the company offers prorated refunds in case you decide to cancel. With so many providers competing for your business, there’s really no need to go with a company that has hefty activation fees or cancellation penalties.

Did You Know? Seniors can receive free quotes for personal safety monitoring, medical alerts and wander prevention services for those with Alzheimer’s. Receive a quote here.

Decide on Extra Features and Add-Ons

Standard service plans include 24/7 monitoring and basic equipment, but companies offer numerous upgrades. Here are a few of the most popular value-added features to look for:

  • GPS tracking allows emergency operators to pinpoint the subscriber’s exact location in case of an emergency. This feature is ideal for seniors with Alzheimer’s or wandering concerns.
  • Fall-detection functions use accelerometers and algorithms to detect unusual movements. This enhanced feature costs $5-$10 per month. Technology is improving, but it still has limitations.
  • Caregiver dashboards that display activity and tracking information are ideal for tech-savvy relatives who want a convenient, unobtrusive way to check on loved ones.
  • Medical alert systems can also be used as a daily wellness tool. For a nominal fee, many providers offer medication reminders and daily check-in functions.
  • As technology improves, more providers are developing mobile emergency response apps and voice-activation tools that can interact with Alexa and home automation devices.

Define Your Emergency Response Needs

Medical alert systems and other PERS are designed to get you help when you need it while preventing false alarms the rest of the time. If you activate the help button, a specially trained operator will answer your call in a matter of seconds. Communication is handled through the base unit, but you can also choose a pendant with two-way voice capabilities.

If you’re unable to communicate with the dispatcher due to medical reasons or the location within your home, the operator will contact emergency responders and treat the situation as a genuine emergency.

Nearly all companies allow subscribers to create a customized plan that instructs operators to contact a friend, relative or neighbor before calling 911. In many cases, it’s much more convenient and appropriate to contact a neighbor or relative rather than police or emergency medical services.

Companies are also moving toward passive monitoring systems that use smart technology to detect unusual movement patterns and trigger automatic wellness calls. If these are the features you want, it may narrow down your choice of systems and providers.

Weigh Provider Credentials

To help you determine if a medical alert company provides timely, reliable service that will meet your needs, be sure to check these four credentials:

  • Average response times: Ideally, the company should answer emergency calls in one minute or less. You also want to find a provider that offers consistent service around the clock.
  • Qualifications: Industry certifications can help you evaluate a provider’s commitment to quality service. TMA’s Five Diamond certification is one of the most rigorous. Underwriters Laboratories, Factory Mutual and the Electronic Security Association also offer third-party quality assurances.
  • Monitoring centers: Look for providers that have at least two onshore facilities. The best providers invest in operator training programs and often employ a nurse, EMT or medical supervisor who can assist during high-priority calls.
  • Language: For most consumers, U.S.-based operators are ideal. However, if English isn’t your first language, look for providers that employ bilingual agents or offer third-party interpretation services. Some companies support more than 200 languages.

Match a Medical Alert System to Your Particular Needs

Medical monitoring is a unique industry. The products are very similar, yet one small feature can determine whether or not the system can work for you. As you start the comparison process, identify your main requirements and any special features that you may need. Decide whether you want landline or cellular service. If you want mobile coverage, find out whether AT&T or Verizon works best in your area. Next, determine what features are important to you. Do you care about long battery life, or would you prefer a pendant that looks like an artisan necklace? As you consider the product’s features and functionality, one or two clear contenders will emerge. You can also learn more about each provider by checking online reviews to see how the system worked for customers in a similar situation.

If you’ve considered medical alert systems in the past but were overwhelmed by the number of options and underwhelmed by the lack of convenient features, the technology has improved. It’s less intrusive and more user-friendly. Consumers today have more options than ever, and we hope that this guide helps you find the right one for your lifestyle.

A Full Explanation of Our Ranking Methodology

We ranked the top 22 medical alert companies on the market today on factors including price, availability of premium features, and company history and reputation. In total, we evaluated five main categories (metrics) and 30 subcategories (sub-metrics). Metrics and sub metrics were weighted in proportion to how much of an impact that specific metric has on customers’ experience and bottom line. A full explanation of the metrics and sub-metrics involved in our data-driven analysis can be found below.

Extra Costs

We considered any costs users may face outside of their standard monthly monitoring fees. This includes startup fees such as activation and installation, as well as cancellation fees, shipping fees, and additional costs for common extra features. While these extra costs can add up with some companies, this metric accounts for just 10% of our rankings because they are typically one-time expenses and thus do not have as much of an impact on a user’s expenses overall. The sub-metrics are as follows:

  • Device/Equipment Fee: Does the company charge a one-time fee to lease or purchase the medical alert device itself, and if so, how much?
  • Activation/Installation Fee: Does the company charge a mandatory one-time fee to activate or install the device, and if so, how much?
  • Shipping Fee: How much must most customers pay for shipping (excluding sales, specials, discounts for longer payment periods, etc.)?
  • Fall Detection: How much extra per month does the company charge for automatic fall detection?
  • Cancellation Fees: Does the company charge cancellation fees when users choose to end their service? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”
  • Prorated Refunds: Do customers who choose to end their service before their subscription period has run out (i.e., six months into an annual payment) receive a prorated refund for unused months? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”

In-Home Systems

This metric evaluated a company’s in-home systems based on both cost and features. Because one’s monthly monitoring payments make up the majority of total medical alert costs, this metric was weighted at 25%. The sub-metrics are as follows:

  • Monthly Cost: How much do customers have to pay each month for standard emergency monitoring services? We always used the regular monthly price- not the annual or semi-annual prices, which are often discounted. If a company offers more than one in-home device, we chose the least expensive option.
  • Available Discounts: Does the company offer any discounts on the monthly monitoring fee for quarterly, semi-annual, or annual subscribers? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”
  • Extra Fee for Cellular In-Home: How much extra does it cost per month to use this system with a cellular connection rather than a landline?
  • Range: How far can users travel from their base station and still be protected by their medical alert system?
  • Showerproof: Can users wear their device in the shower, where falls are common? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”

Mobile Systems

Similar to the in-home systems category, the mobile systems ranking category focused on the devices’ monthly cost and features. Because the monthly monitoring cost and features available with one’s device have a major impact on customer experience, this metric was weighted at 25%. The sub-metrics are as follows:

  • Monthly Cost: How much do customers have to pay each month for standard emergency monitoring service? Again, if a company offers more than one device at different costs, we chose the least expensive option.
  • Available Discounts: Does the company offer any discounts on the monthly monitoring fee for quarterly, semi-annual, or annual subscribers? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”
  • Battery Life: How long does the device’s battery last in between charges?
  • Water-Resistant? Can users wear their device in the rain, and is it okay if it gets splashed? We measured this sub-metric in terms of “yes” or “no.”

Availability of Add-Ons

Add-on devices and features are an important element in determining a customer’s satisfaction. Even those who are only interested in basic add-on devices, such as a lockbox or wall-mounted button, will benefit from a company that offers these devices along with medical alert systems all in one shop. For those who need specific add-on features like medication reminders, the decision of which medical alert company to choose may rely solely on whether the company offers the needed service.

Because of the influence the availability of add-ons can have on a customer’s decision, this category is weighted at 20%. The goal of this ranking category was to evaluate the availability of these devices and features rather than their costs, and thus was measured using a yes/no system. The add-ons that we included in this ranking category (the sub-metrics) are as follows:

  • Fall detection
  • Lockbox
  • Wall buttons
  • Device protection plan
  • Caregiver portal/app
  • Location Information On-Demand (location tracking for caregivers)
  • Medication Reminders
  • Activity Tracking

Reliability and Reputation

Factors like cost, device battery life, and availability of desired add-on features are all tangible things that certainly impact a customer’s satisfaction with their medical alert company. But, other intangibles also can have a great impact on a user’s experience. In our Reliability and Reputation metric, we examined those intangibles that impact customer satisfaction and safety. Because of this impact, Reliability and Reputation was weighted at 20% of a company’s total score. The elements we chose to evaluate, our sub-metrics, are as follows:

  • BBB Rating: What is the company’s Better Business Bureau rating?
  • Monitoring Center Certified by 3rd Party: Does the company’s monitoring center(s) have certifications and ratings from third-party safety organizations? We measured this sub-metric on a yes/no basis.
  • Free Trial Period: Does the company offer new users a free trial period and, if so, how long is the trial?
  • Average Response Time: How long does it take, on average, for a user to speak with an emergency operator after pressing their medical alert emergency button?
  • Transparency/Ease of Finding Information on Website: Is the company’s website informative and user-friendly? Are prices, extra costs, and policies clearly explained on the website? Is it easy to find the information most important to customers? This sub-metric was measured on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most transparent and informative website.
  • Years in Business: For how many years has the company provided medical alert systems and services?
  • BBB Review Score: What is the company’s average score from consumer reviews on the Better Business Bureau website?

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Medical Alert Systems Expensive?

Medical alert systems typically cost between $20 to $45 per month or about $1 per day. Basic in-home systems with one pendant and a push-button base unit are the most affordable option. Mobile systems that include GPS tracking cost more, but their advanced capabilities can benefit active seniors, travelers and adults who are at risk of wandering. With fall detection and other add-ons, monthly costs can climb as high as $90. However, seniors may be able to save by signing up for annual or semiannual billing, and affinity discounts may be available to members of national organizations, such as AAA and USAA.

Will My Insurance Pay for a Medical Alert System?

Despite the proven benefits, most health insurance plans don’t cover the cost of personal emergency response systems. If you’re aged 65 or older, basic Medicare (Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover the cost of medical alert systems, but some Part C Medicare Advantage Plans do provide this value-added benefit. Coverage is sometimes available to homebound individuals who receive in-home care or self-directed services through Medicaid if the device helps them live in the community safely.

Do I Need to Purchase Special Equipment?

Usually, no. The majority of medical alert companies include the cost of equipment in their monthly monitoring fees. In other words, there’s usually no upfront charge for the device, but you may have to pay if the equipment is lost or damaged or if you fail to return it after you cancel your plan. If you’re purchasing equipment upfront, determine whether it’s self-monitored or tied to a certain provider.

How Long Do the Batteries Last?

Batteries in medical alert systems last anywhere from 24 hours to 7 years depending on the technology and design. GPS-enabled systems with two-way voice communication have the shortest battery life, especially when connecting to remote cell towers in rural locations. Most in-home base units remain active for up to three days without power. Lithium-ion batteries used in pendants and push buttons generally last for several years.

What Type of Phone Service Do I Need?

Nearly every medical alert company offers multiple service options. If you have a landline, the system uses your existing service. All you need is a phone jack. Landline systems are generally compatible with VoIP technology, but it’s important to remember that this system isn’t as reliable in case of Internet malfunctions or power outages.

Mobile devices come with their own SIM card, and you don’t have to purchase cell service since it’s already included in the monthly monitoring fee. There’s one drawback, however. Most cellular systems use AT&T’s nationwide network, which has coverage gaps in Nevada, Nebraska and Montana. If you don’t have AT&T, a Verizon-based service like GreatCall may give you an alternative.

Do I Need to Hire an Installer, or can I Set up the System Myself?

Medical alert systems are easy to use and install. In most cases, it takes five minutes or less. Installation is as simple as plugging in a phone jack, connecting the power supply and turning on the unit. If you need assistance, many companies can walk you through the process over the phone. You may also want to work with a tech-savvy relative who can take advantage of online monitoring tools.


Compare More Medical Alert Systems

For more information, read about our reviews of additional companies not included in this guide in head-to-head company comparisons to see how each stacks up against the competition:

Other Medical Alert Systems We’ve Reviewed

More About Medical Alert Systems


2022 Guides for Medicare, Medicaid, and Insurance for people recently unemployed