Service or Product Lines – Is there a difference? Does it really matter?

As we organize services across our organizations, there are multiple strategies we use to align the various individuals affecting a specific disease-state or service. These groups and services are often referred to as Service Lines, or, as I am reluctant to actually put into writing, Product Lines. Since I am so hesitant to actually use this term, I guess I need to explain further. In the 70s and 80s, I believe the general terminology used for this structure was Product Line; however, the meaning was very different. Although I wasn’t involved in healthcare until the mid-90s, my understanding was that Product Lines focused more on marketing and growth efforts, not on the broad scope of current Service Lines. I’ve always had a hard time labeling these efforts under the scope of “Product Lines” … as the connotation is that we’re taking care of widgets, not patients.

Well, now that I’ve had my say about Product Lines … let’s talk about Service Lines and why I think it does matter to call them such. With the label of “Service Line,” we can best incorporate the broad scope of a specialty, service or line. For example, when I’ve been creating service lines at my current hospital, we make them interdisciplinary with individuals involved in a patient’s care from presentation through discharge (as much as we can). Additionally, we focus on four “foundations” that drive our efforts & services: Quality, Growth/Outreach, Fiscal Responsibility/Accountability and Satisfaction (Patient & Provider). When we align these efforts (re: services) around a specific Service Line, we have the best opportunity to have quality outcomes (that are measurable and trending), control our expenses, enhance our revenue and leverage these successes to grow our volume responsibly. E. Preston Gee, author of Service Line Success, states that Service Lines allow “an organization to better understand the dynamics at play within the subcategories of its business.” A perfect example of this is the aligning of competing forces in a Cardiovascular Service Line (no small task … but very rewarding when it works!). Furthermore, Gee suggests that Service Lines force “the organization to institute a discipline of measurement and accountability” – which I believe is key in today’s environment. I could talk ad nauseam about this topic (trust me, ask anyone who works with me!!), and may discuss further in a future posting – so beware! So, that’s why I prefer the “Service Line” moniker and for me, yes it does matter. What do you think and what successes have you had?