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Walmart sees benefit of flying employees to top hospitals for care

For the last six years, Walmart has been suggesting that its employees visit specific hospitals, known as Centers of Excellence, for surgeries and second opinions. Today, Walmart published a case study detailing its approach as a guide for other companies, according to CNBC.

Walmart's program to fly employees, all expenses paid, to some of the top hospitals in the world was designed to lower its  healthcare costs and improve the overall health of its workers.

Until this year, employees were encouraged to visit a Center of Excellence, which includes Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic and Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Medical Center. If employees decided to see care outside of the suggested hospitals, Walmart made them pick up half the bill, according to the case study published in the Harvard Business Review.  

Between 2015 and 2018, more than half (54 percent) of Walmart employees who were seeking treatment for spine pain avoided surgery because they visited a Center of Excellence. One employee who avoided spine surgery saved Walmart about $30,000, CNBC reported.

Choosing a Walmart-recommended hospital also resulted in shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates and few postsurgical care needs. Patients were able to return to work nearly three weeks sooner than those who went to a hospital that had not been recommended, the study indicated.

While Walmart reported spending $32,177 per patient for spine surgery, a higher charge than that at non-Centers of Excellence, the company said it saved money overall because of surgeries that were avoided and  better outcomes.

Walmart started the program with a relationship with Mayo Clinic and focused on spine surgery. Today, the company recommends its list of hospitals for patients seeking joint replacements, cancer treatment or heart surgeries.

"This has been a journey we've been on for several years," Lisa Woods, senior director of benefits at Walmart, told CNBC. "We're committed to sharing what we learn."

To read the full case study, click here.

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