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' specialty medical providers and 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
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
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
Health, as well as partnerships with Critical Access
Hospitals (CAH) in the region, including:
Finding and recruiting physicians is an ongoing
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
Recruiting specialists to help develop and build a
program was incentive to semi-retired specialists looking
to use their services in this way.
Prairie's advanced technology
and equipment, healthy work-life balance, and not
requiring physicians to be on call 24/7, helped to draw
interest from specialists.
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
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
Calculate how many physicians your community could
support before you start recruiting.
Acquire ownership interest in local, privately owned
Stick to your medical plan and cut services that are
not in line with that plan.
Put the patient first: work with
their area medical provider to help the patient access
services as close to home as possible.
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.