BISMARCK, N.D. - St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck has joined a national network of hospitals connected with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The move is not an acquisition or a merger, but a collaboration that will enable St. Alexius doctors to connect electronically with Mayo specialists, allowing more patients to stay closer to home, according to St. Alexius and Mayo officials.

"Although we can handle, I would say, a majority of cases that come to St. Alexius, there are some cases that we would definitely like input from our colleagues that are super specialists," St. Alexius neurologist Shiraz Hyder said.

The network is relatively new, said Dr. David Hayes, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Mayo began discussing the idea two years ago and the first network member, Altru Health System of Grand Forks, joined about a year ago. There now are 10 network members in the Mayo Clinic Care Network or Mayo Clinic Cancer Care Network, including facilities in Arizona, New Hampshire, Vermont, Missouri, Florida, Illinois and Michigan.

Bismarck's other hospital, formerly known as Medcenter One, merged with Dakotas-based Sanford Health this summer. Sanford does not have a formalized agreement with the Mayo Clinic but has worked with it in the past, said Craig Lambrecht, president and CEO of Sanford Bismarck. Sanford bills itself as the nation's largest not-for-profit rural health care provider.