Walmart has provided a solution to rising health care costs for its employees, according to a Harvard Business Review article co-authored by Lisa Woods, a senior director in Walmart’s benefits department. The article focuses on Walmart’s Centers of Excellence (COE) program, a way to provide employees with care while controlling health care costs by taking the lifecycle costs into account. The program connects patients with national experts for conditions such as heart and spine surgeries, knee and hip replacements and certain cancer diagnoses. By doing so, patients can get second opinions, helping to avoid a misdiagnosis.

Of the 2,300 Walmart associates referred to the COE for spine surgery, over half didn’t need surgery and found more effective, more appropriate and less expensive treatments.

If surgery is deemed necessary, choosing to undergo it at a COE designated health system can have big benefits for patients because they are getting high-quality care. COE patients had shorter hospital stays and lower readmission rates. They were also able to return to work sooner, which is better for both the patient and the company. The program also bundles payments for all the costs of certain procedures (for example, a knee replacement), bypassing insurers and working directly with the health systems.

 “From the start Walmart, like the providers it partners with, has explicitly pursued health care value — lowered costs coupled with better outcomes,” Woods said in the article. “It would do little good to secure bargain-priced care if that didn’t help people resume their lives and return to work.”

Visit the Harvard Business Review website to read the full article.