Lessons From SingFit’s Rollout to 260 Sunrise Communities

For many senior living tech firms, the holy grail is landing a big national operator as a customer and rolling out across the portfolio. But this is usually easier said than done for even the most innovative companies, as it requires a lot of patience and skill and a dash of luck.

And yet, there are companies which have achieved this sought-after goal. One recent example is Los Angeles-based Musical Health Technologies, which currently offers its SingFit PRIME product in more than 260 Sunrise Senior Living communities across the U.S. As it scaled up with one of the largest providers of senior living in the country, the tech firm learned lessons about the importance of having scalable training and processes, aligning goals, benchmarking successes and maintaining product consistency.

The SingFit app currently has more than 400 songs built in, including hits from Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole. With the help of trained employees, thousands of Sunrise assisted living and memory care residents sing along with and answer trivia questions about their favorite songs during three or more sessions per week.

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It wasn’t always this widely adopted, though — in fact, Musical Health Technologies only started its first pilot program with the McClean, Virginia-based senior living provider in 2017. Scaling up so widely with Sunrise is a badge of honor for the tech company, according to Rachel Francine, SingFit co-founder and CEO.

“One benefit of the Sunrise relationship is that it does show prospective investors that we really have the ability to distribute music as medicine as a digital therapeutic effectively and for a lower cost than other less effective interventions,” Francine told Senior Housing News. “In light of that, we are talking to strategic investors who we believe can help accelerate our mission of making music as medicine as easily accessible as pharmaceuticals.”

Today, SingFit’s music platform is used in roughly 440 senior housing communities nationwide — and that number is still growing. In early 2019, the firm will debut SingFit STUDIO, a platform intended for use by health care and caregiving professionals in one-to-one sessions. SingFit STUDIO will aim to improve dementia care, and other modules focused on additional conditions are planned in the future.

Scaling and benchmarking

Sunrise’s relationship with SingFit came about after a chance meeting at an industry conference between the tech company’s chief clinical officer and certified music therapist, Andy Tubman, and a coworker of Rita Altman, senior vice president of memory care and program services for Sunrise. Eventually, that connection led to a SingFit demo with Sunrise.

Things really started to fall into place in the fall of 2017, when Sunrise first introduced SingFit into one of its communities with hopes for a wider rollout. For Sunrise, consistency and scaleability were at top of mind.

“We already knew many of the elements of it were tested,” Altman told SHN. “So, it was something that we thought could bring us consistency across all of Sunrise, and that’s a really key part.”

One of the benchmarks by which the pilot was measured was how easily the program could be taught to workers who weren’t necessarily music therapists. In the past, that likely would have meant in-person training sessions from Tubman himself  — but Sunrise is a major senior living player with locations all across the country, and Tubman only has so much time to travel and train people. So, the tech company leaned into its online training course to fill the gap.

“It wasn’t possible to roll out at that same scale with in-person training,” Tubman told SHN. “So, we had to develop the online training, which made the program more affordable and much more easily distributable.”

During those training sessions, aspiring SingFit facilitators watch videos and take quizzes in a series of online modules. In order to become certified with the music program, trainees must spend around three hours learning the ins and outs. They wrap up the instruction course with a mock music session and a webinar with a SingFit music therapist to shore up what they’ve learned and ask any lingering questions.

The program is designed to work with minimal connection to the internet, meaning it’s suitable for a wide range of senior living communities. It’s also digestible for people who may not have had any prior musical training or experience. That’s important for the senior living industry, where turnover for workers can be high.

Another key benchmark for the program — and perhaps the most important one of all — was how it affected the older adults who reside in Sunrise communities. Data collected during the initial pilot showed that residents benefitted from the programming in numerous ways. Moods improved, anxiety and wandering were reduced, and residents who might otherwise struggle with self-expression or social interaction seemed to be thriving. And the program was measured through smaller observations, too, such as residents smiling more, tapping their toes, moving to the music or just singing along.

“It really can engage someone who may not be able to articulate well, and yet they can still sing a song,” Altman said. “There’s something going on there that’s touching their spirit and their heart.”

The program also benefits Sunrise’s employees. SingFit PRIME facilitators said becoming certified made their job easier and increased their job satisfaction, according to survey data collected from the program.

There are lessons here for other tech providers who want to similarly scale up with other large senior living companies about being clear about clearly defining goals and being able to measure success.

“Having aligned values and goals with your partner from the very beginning is very important,” Francine said. “[For example], if the reason they’re doing this is to elevate the residents’ moods or make them more engaged, make sure you are collecting that data, and that you’re able to feed that back for them.”

Written by Tim Regan

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