Prairie Lakes Healthcare System Physician Recruitment Model
- Need: Localized specialty and surgery services for residents in rural northeastern South Dakota and western Minnesota.
- Intervention: Prairie Lakes Healthcare System expanded their services by recruiting specialty physicians and networking with regional community hospitals to increase patient referrals.
- Results: Patients receive surgery and specialized care closer to home through Prairie Lakes' 26 specialty medical providers and more than 20 specialty services.
Based in Watertown, South Dakota, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System operates within a 10-county region in northeastern South Dakota and western Minnesota. The nonprofit aims to meet the more complicated medical needs of patients by offering surgery and specialized services, eliminating the need to travel long distances to receive treatments.
Up until 2003, this region had only a traditional community hospital, a cancer center, and a rural dialysis outreach. With the idea of expansion brewing, Prairie Lakes completed a Medical Staff Development Plan to determine medical specialty needs in the market. The plan established how many subspecialty physicians were needed for services such as cardiology; nephrology; urology; pulmonology; ear, nose and throat (ENT); and general surgery.
Initially, the rural location of Watertown, South Dakota made physician recruitment a challenge, so Prairie Lakes hired a full-time recruiter to accelerate the process and establish new referral relationships. Their incentives caught the attention of specialty physicians across the nation, and new physicians built credibility with referring physicians in the market.
Prairie Lakes currently has working relationships with larger medical centers such as The Avera Health System and Sanford Health, as well as partnerships with Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) in the region, including:
- Coteau des Prairies Health Care System, Sisseton, SD
- Ortonville Area Health Services, Ortonville MN
- Johnson Memorial Health Services, Dawson MN
- Madison Healthcare Services, Madison MN
- Appleton Area Health Services, Appleton, MN
- Tyler Healthcare Center Avera, Tyler, MN
- Milbank Area Hospital Avera, Milbank, SD
- Huron Regional Medical Center, Huron, SD
Hear how Prairie Lakes medical staff worked with Randy to treat his sinuses:
Since 1998, Prairie Lakes has expanded their services to include the following:
- Cardiac Catheterization
- Infusion Therapy
- Kidney dialysis
- Cancer care
- Radiation Therapy
- Wound Care
- Vascular screening
- Oncology Clinical Trials
- Home care
- Rehabilitation & Therapy
Since 2003, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System has succeeded in the following:
- Established a total of 21 outreach clinics
- Increased the number of referrals coming from regional primary care physicians (PCPs)
- Grew employed, specialty physician medical staff from only 1 to 22 physicians and 4 nurse practitioners.
- Recruited 3 general surgeons
- Established a new radiology services contract with 70-80 fellowship-trained radiologists
- Achieves a 5% to 10% operating margin, compared to most hospitals' 3% average margin
- Built a sustainable structure where specialists work together with referring physicians in order to provide each patient continuity of care
- Has become a "show site" for patient care technology and diagnostic equipment
- Opened a specialty clinic to centralize services in the fall of 2018.
- Finding and recruiting physicians is an ongoing challenge
- Competition with established, large health systems
- PCPs have concerns about losing the patient if they refer them to specialty services, often making it difficult to secure a partnership
- Having physicians on staff adds to higher fixed costs
- Low numbers and volume factor that can make it difficult to be as profitable on physician services as large health systems
- Overcoming old mindsets such as the negativity surrounding itinerant surgery and the idea that being independent is unsustainable
- Lack of backup physicians for key specialty services
Prairie Lakes has built a successful physician recruitment model through marketing the positive aspects of practice in an independent community hospital:
- With many large medical infrastructures buying out smaller practices, the independent, non-corporate system was appealing to mid-career specialists seeking a change in environment.
- Recruiting specialists to help develop and build a program was incentive to semi-retired specialists looking to use their services in this way.
Much of Prairie Lakes' success is due to their commitment to the viability of community hospitals and referring PCPs. While growing a medical system, they suggest keeping the following principles in mind while working together with established medical facilities that surround you:
- If you think there is a demand, validate it by assessing the market and the needs of your community.
- Cater your services to meet the medical needs of your community.
- Calculate how many physicians your community could support before you start recruiting.
- Acquire ownership interest in local, privately owned surgery centers.
- Stick to your medical plan and cut services that are not in line with that plan.
Networking and collaboration
Recruitment and retention of health professionals
Minnesota, South Dakota
December 9, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
January 7, 2019
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.