What is Six Sigma Quality at Quest Diagnostics?

All Labs Are Not Created Equal
How Six Sigma Works
Why Six Sigma?

Our Six Sigma Way of Life

All Labs Are Not Created Equal

Right from the beginning, quality has been a core focus at Quest Diagnostics. Six Sigma is a rigorous, data-centered approach to process improvement strategy, by which we are striving to achieve a new quality standard for the healthcare industry.

Six Sigma is focused on trying to prevent problems by building quality into processes — by not having problems in the first place. The Six Sigma method utilizes full-time dedicated Black Belts (project managers). The Black Belts receive a formal blended training program that includes 130 hours of online training and 70 hours of in class training in process analysis and statistical methods, as well as mentoring by Six Sigma experts.

Six Sigma Level Definition

Six Sigma Level Definition

"Good" companies are 3.5 sigma, which still results in 22,700 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). That is not good enough in healthcare. We believe that the healthcare industry must strive for "virtual perfection." At Quest Diagnostics, we are dedicated to the goal of providing the highest quality to the patients whose specimens are entrusted to us.

How Six Sigma Works

At Quest Diagnostics, we are driven by customer focus. The Six Sigma method starts by asking the fundamental question: What is critical to our customers? Then rigorous analysis is applied to all processes in the business to assess whether we are delivering what customers require. Each time processes don't deliver, that is a defect. We are passionate about using data to uncover the root causes of those defects and improving our process measures. Our ultimate objective with Six Sigma is to deliver to customers what is critical to them each and every time — to strive to achieve "virtual perfection."

Our Projects Start by Obtaining the Customer Requirements

1) Obtain "Voice of Customer"

Too long a wait at a Patient Service Center
2) Define what is "Critical to Quality"

Taken into draw room quickly
3) Define the "Defect Definition"

Total waiting time is longer than 20 minutes
4) Translate the "Defect Definition" to "Process Measures"

Taken to draw room within 20 minutes of checking in

Why Are We Pursuing Six Sigma?

The Healthcare Imperative

Quest Diagnostics provides critical input to healthcare decisions for more millions of patients every week. Quite simply, our objective is to provide to our customers and patients unparalleled quality and excellence in clinical testing. 

The Business Imperative

Six Sigma is good business. We believe it will provide the foundation and fuel to attract and retain the best employees and help us exceed our customers' expectations. Experience has shown Six Sigma delivers business results that can help accelerate growth, reduce costs and ultimately deliver a good return on investment to our shareholders.

Our Six Sigma Way of Life

Commitment at All Levels Drives Results

Commitment at All Levels Drives Results

Building a Base of Expertise

Since May 2000, with the launch of our first "wave" of 15 Black Belts, Quest Diagnostics has built a powerful force of skilled Six Sigma project leaders. Today, the company has Master Black Belts, Black Belts and Green Belts (business leaders who have been trained to lead Six Sigma improvement projects). The company has Black Belts deployed in every Quest Diagnostics business unit across the U.S. and Europe.

Our Growing Six Sigma Expertise
Master Black Belts > 25
Black Belts > 125
Green Belts > 2,000


  Total Projects
Total Projects

Making an Impact

Black Belts and Green Belts are leading high-impact project teams focused on improving performance in areas of our business that are critical to customers. Six Sigma is making an impact on two levels. Provide the best care to patients and driving efficiencies in the business. Six Sigma projects are an integral part of the Operating Plans of every business unit in Quest Diagnostics. Projects have touched all processes in our business including: patient service centers, logistics, specimen processing, the analytical laboratory, client services, billing, sales, information technology, human resources and others.

Six Sigma Model

Six Sigma Methodologies

Our Six Sigma model has three aspects:

  • Process Improvement focuses on improving broken processes.
  • Process Design is aimed at developing something from nothing. The new products and services will encompass Six Sigma principles.
  • Process Management translates Six Sigma in every day management decisions through the use of measurement systems.


Introducing Lean

"Lean" adds powerful tools and methods to our Six Sigma toolkit that are focused primarily on the flow and speed of processes, as well as waste reduction. The tools and methods complement the traditional Six Sigma disciplines of variation (stability) and defect reduction (capability). These disciplines are identified on a visual tool called a Value Stream Map. Knitting together these two methodologies (Lean & Six Sigma) enhances our ability to bring value to our customers. Another objective for our Six Sigma journey is to dramatically increase the effectiveness of our process improvement approach by supplementing our traditional Six Sigma process improvement methodology with Lean (Lean Six Sigma). We use Lean in all three aspects of the Six Sigma Model.

Introducing Kaizen

The word "Kaizen," which is loosely defined as improvement for the better, is derived from Japanese root words, "kai," which means to change or break apart and "zen," which means goodness or betterment. Kaizen is the organized use of common sense to improve cost, quality, delivery, and responsiveness to customer needs. The Kaizen Event assembles cross-functional teams aimed at improving a process or problem identified within a specific area. Quest Diagnostics utilizes Kaizen Events to quickly implement and make changes to our processes to satisfy and delight our customers.

Projects vs. Kaizen Events
  Project Kaizen Event
Scope Broad, negotiable Narrow, fixed
Supports Value Stream Plan
Duration Weeks or months 3-6 days
End point When goals are achieved Implemented changes during event
Team Workers + support Workers + support
Training Team + technical skills Limited + on-the-job training
Participation Part time Full time for 3-6 days
Focus All phases of project Detailed design and implementation

Six Sigma Consulting

Because of the robust Six Sigma program available at Quest Diagnostics, we are now proud to roll out our new Six Sigma Consulting program to the hospital sector of our business.

We offer consultancy for projects focused on healthcare objectives such as growth, quality, productivity and employee satisfaction. Once the projects are aligned with the objectives for the organization, Six Sigma's proven methodology takes over and helps to deliver results that can make a significant and ongoing impact on margin.

  • Improved growth — higher patient throughput
  • Improved quality — reduced input errors and communication errors
  • Improved productivity — higher utilization of staff
  • Improved employee satisfaction — time spent focused on the patient and not dealing with defect issues