The collaborative practice model for bipolar disorder: design and implementation in a multi-site randomized controlled trial


Corresponding author: Mark S Bauer, MD, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, VAMC-116R, Providence, RI 02908-4799, USA. Tel: +1-401-273-7100, x3863; fax: +1-401-457-3311; e-mail:


Bipolar disorder remains a high morbidity and costly illness in general clinical practice, despite the availability of efficacious medications. This ‘efficacy–effectiveness gap’[1,2] may be addressed by better organizing systems of care. One type of intervention is the ‘collaborative practice model’ which can be defined as an organization of care that a) emphasizes development in the patient of illness management skills, and b) supports provider capability and availability in order to c) engage patients in timely, joint decision-making regarding their illness.

This article describes such a collaborative practice model for bipolar disorder, designed to be widely adoptable and sustainable in general clinical practice. The first part of the article describes the theoretical background from which the collaborative practice approach developed, emphasizing its origins in the lithium clinics of the 1970s, in nursing theory and practice, and more recently in the management of chronic medical diseases. The second part describes the structure of one such intervention, the Bipolar Disorders Program (BDP) developed in the Veterans Affairs health care system. The third part summarizes results from single-site studies of the intervention. The fourth part describes several key issues in its implementation in an ongoing multi-site randomized controlled trial, VA Cooperative Study Program (CSP) #430.

Data to date indicate that such collaborative practice interventions may improve important process and intermediate outcome variables for bipolar disorder. The BDP provides an example of a multi-faceted collaborative practice model that can be manualized and implemented across multiple sites in a randomized controlled trial.