• algorithm;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • case management;
  • cost-effectiveness;
  • effectiveness;
  • group psychotherapy;
  • randomized trial

Objectives: Everyday care of bipolar disorder typically falls short of evidence-based practice. This report describes the design and implementation of a randomized trial evaluating a systematic program to improve quality and continuity of care for bipolar disorder.

Methods: Computerized records of a large health plan were used to identify all patients treated for bipolar disorder. Following a baseline diagnostic assessment, eligible and consenting patients were randomly assigned to either continued usual care or a multifaceted intervention program including: development of a collaborative treatment plan, monthly telephone monitoring by a dedicated nurse care manager, feedback of monitoring results and algorithm-based medication recommendations to treating mental health providers, as-needed outreach and care coordination, and a structured psychoeducational group program (the Life Goals Program by Bauer and McBride) delivered by the nurse care manager. Blinded assessments of clinical outcomes, functional outcomes, and treatment process were conducted every 3 months for 24 months.

Results: A total of 441 patients (64% of those eligible) consented to participate and 43% of enrolled patients met criteria for current major depressive episode, manic episode, or hypomanic episode. An additional 39% reported significant subthreshold symptoms, and 18% reported minimal or no current mood symptoms. Of patients assigned to the intervention program, 94% participated in telephone monitoring and 70% attended at least one group session.

Conclusions: In a population-based sample of patients treated for bipolar disorder, approximately two-thirds agreed to participate in a randomized trial comparing alternative treatment strategies. Nearly all patients accepted regular telephone monitoring and over two-thirds joined a structured group program. Future reports will describe clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the intervention program compared with usual care.