Despite the availability of efficacious treatments for bipolar disorder, their effectiveness in general clinical practice is greatly attenuated, resulting in what has been called an 'efficacy-effectiveness gap'. In designing VA Cooperative Studies Program (CSP) Study #430 to address this gap, nine principles for conducting an effectiveness (in contrast to an efficacy) study were identified. These principles are presented and discussed, with specific aspects of CSP #430 serving as illustrations of how they can be implemented in an actual study. CSP #430 hypothesizes that an integrated, clinic-based treatment delivery system that emphasizes (1) algorithm-driven somatotherapy, (2) standardized patient education, and (3) easy access to a single primary mental health care provider to maximize continuity-of-care, will address the efficacy-effectiveness gap and improve disease, functional, and economic outcome. It is an 11-site, randomized controlled clinical trial of this multi-modal, clinic-based intervention versus usual VA care running from 1997 to 2003. The trial has enrolled 191 subjects in each arm, using minimal exclusion criteria to maximize the external validity of the study. Subjects are followed for 3 years. The intervention is highly specified in a series of operations manuals for each of the three components. Several continuous quality improvement (CQI) interventions, process measures, and statistical techniques deal with drift of care in both the intervention and usual care arms to ensure the internal validity of the study. CSP #430 is designed to have impact well beyond the VA, since it evaluates a basic health care operational principle: that augmenting ambulatory access for major mental illness will improve outcome and reduce overall treatment costs. If results are positive, this study will provide a reason to reconsider the prevailing trend toward limitation of ambulatory services that is characteristic of many managed care systems today.