Background: Existing rural prehospital models have been criticised for being isolated from the healthcare system, and for following inflexible clinical protocols. Greater reliance on clinical judgement and informed decision making in the prehospital setting offer the potential to improve patient care. Methods: Soft systems methodology was used to develop and critically appraise the prehospital practitioner model as an alternative to existing models. This approach started from the philosophical viewpoint that prehospital services should be patient centred. Soft systems methodology was used to structure the elements of prehospital systems and the relations between them into metaphors and pictures that could be analysed. Results: This analysis showed that the most powerful reason for advocating the prehospital practitioner model is that it places prehospital systems within a symbiotic relationship with the healthcare system. Unlike the existing emergency service models or the 'chain of survival' model, it is an integrated system that provides a range of services at multiple points during the patient care cycle. Thus, the prehospital practitioner would have roles in the prevention of injury and illness, responding to emergencies, facilitating recovery, and planning future strategies for a healthy community. Conclusions: Implementing this new model would see the prehospital system using its available capacity more effectively to fulfill broader public health and primary care outreach roles than is currently the case. Patients would be referred or transported to the most appropriate and cost effective facility as part of a seamless system that provides patients with well organised and high quality care.