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Your friendly, neighborhood Six Sigma physician

He's tasked with safeguarding medical tests for a lab giant - and his turnaround is faster than your dry cleaner's.

Herman Hurwitz ensures the integrity of lab samples for testing giant Quest Diagnostics. (David Maialetti / Philadelphia Daily News)
Herman Hurwitz ensures the integrity of lab samples for testing giant Quest Diagnostics. (David Maialetti / Philadelphia Daily News)Read more

Herman Hurwitz

Senior medical director for the regional Quest Diagnostics lab, in Horsham, and for Quest Diagnostics Inc.'s lab operations across the western United States.

Homegrown talent:

Hurwitz grew up in Chester, where his family owned a furniture and appliance store. "My father's name was Morton. It was named Morton's Furniture," he said.

He commuted to Temple and worked nights at the store, earning both his college degree and his medical degree in North Philly and completing his four-year residency in pathology there too.

After a short stint of active duty at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital during the Vietnam War, he practiced at a community hospital in the Kennedy Health System, then became medical director of Damon Clinical Laboratories in Trevose. Hurwitz was at Damon when Quest Diagnostics bought it. "I came with an acquisition," he said.

Early-bird business strategy:

The quality and accuracy of medical lab work is regulated by the federal and state government, among other watchdogs, so Quest Diagnostics and competitors like LabCorp try to distinguish themselves in other ways, like punctuality.

It's Hurwitz's goal for the 300 technicians and 17 physicians on his staff to turn around routine lab work overnight and have results back to doctors by 6:30 a.m. They process about 25,000 test orders a day. "If you come in at 12 a.m., you're going to see a beehive of activity," he said.

The turnpike's toll: The lab, located just off the Turnpike at Willow Grove, almost always hits its early-morning goal, although Hurwitz said major delays on the skittish toll road can throw a wrench in the schedule. Transportation hubs in Allentown and Mount Laurel consolidate shipments of blood vials and Pap test slides from the outer edges of the lab's service area, which includes eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and all of Delaware.

Paging Dr. MBA: Quest Diagnostics has been following Six Sigma management doctrine for seven years to reduce errors and improve efficiency. "Do we make errors? Yes, of course we do," Hurwitz said. "But when we do, we find out why and we fix it."

On the efficiency side, the lab questions every step its technicians take to accomplish a task - literally. "We look at something as simple as a technologist walking around the counter," he said. "Do they really have to walk around the counter?"

A new robot will soon join the lab crew to uncap test tubes.

White coat effect: In most ways, Hurwitz is the calm, steady presence you'd want overseeing the for-profit facility that processes your blood work and your scary biopsies.

He and his wife, Sandi, have been married for 48 years - they have one son, also a doctor - and they're still living in the house they moved into 32 years ago in Cherry Hill's Eagle Oak neighborhood.

"As you can see, we don't make changes very often," he said.

In the medical community, he's a sought-after authority on health statistics, with important findings based on his company's database of 17 billion lab-test results.

Paging Speed Racer: On the other hand, he's also a performance-car enthusiast. He drives a 2007 Infiniti G35 Sport, with a manual transmission, and he's taken Formula Fords to the limit on the big bend at Pocono Raceway - the limit being 140 mph. "It's the quiet ones you have to watch," he said. "When Sandi rides with me, she always tells me she wants an extra seat belt." - Becky Batcha,
Daily News staff writer