GPS Technology in Medical Alert Systems

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GPS (Global Positioning System) is a satellite-based, location identification technology that can be found in some electronic products today. It's familiar to many of us from using car satellite navigation systems and smart phones.

Recently, some companies in the medical alert system industry have been adding GPS devices into their systems--with mixed results.

Companies have added GPS functionality to provide broader emergency monitoring coverage to their customers -- beyond the home and garden coverage offered by established senior alert systems.

However, despite the excitement around GPS technology, its use in senior alert devices is still in its infancy.  As a result, GPS-enabled devices may cause unexpected issues and consequences for their users.

Limitations of GPS Technology

  • Limited accuracy: According to the FAA, the basic GPS signal is accurate on a worst-case basis to within approximately 100 meters lateral and 140 meters vertical everywhere on earth. This means that the GPS signal will give EMTs an approximate, but not an absolute location for the user.
  • External coverage limited to cellular phone coverage areas: These devices only work where the cell provider has a signal.  Any black-out or weak cell signal areas leave the user without the ability to summon help in an emergency. Currently, there are still many residential neighborhoods where cellular signal is weak, although inside of residential homes is where seniors need it most.
  • Cannot tell what floor a person is on in a multi-story building: Current GPS technology does not allow tracking of a mobile person in a 3D space. So in a worse case, responders will have to search multiple floors to locate the person in need.
  • New Technology Complicates Response Process: The infrastructure between most monitoring centers and the network of EMTs is still adapting to handle GPS technology while providing reasonable response times. For example, emergency operators must now use GPS coordinates to identify which emergency responders are nearest, and have the proper jurisdiction, to assist the customer.
  • Raises Cost: When adding any other new feature to a product, costs for production and prices for consumers will rise. GPS raises these costs without guaranteeing that there will be any true value for our seniors.

Alert1 and GPS in the Future

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Inclusion of current GPS technology in medical alert devices -- especially when tied to mobile phone technology -- raises concerns about providing timely emergency help and concerns about its actual value to the customer. It is for this reason that Alert1 has chosen not to offer GPS in our products at this time. Alert1 is constantly evaluating new technology to improve our alert systems. We cannot adopt GPS technology just yet, but look forward to the day when the benefits outweigh the costs for our customers.

 

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