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The National Elf Service: no bias, no misinformation, no spin

Health and social care professionals can become overwhelmed by the quantity of research and other evidence available to us. It is simply not possible to keep up to date with all the research which could potentially inform our work.

However, there is a growing community of friendly elves who sift and appraise the latest evidence, bringing it to us in digestible blogs. For example, I keep a close eye on the Social Care Elf who helps us to stay up to date with social care research, policy and guidance. Also, the Mental Elf is great for mental health research.

National Elf Service

This week, the National Elf Service was launched by the creators of the Social Care Elf and Mental Elf. This short animation explains what it does:

This week I caught up with André Tomlin, the Managing Director of Minervation Ltd and creator of the National Elf Service, to find out more.

What is it all about?

The National Elf Service is run by experienced practitioners who voluntarily critically appraise the latest research, select significant developments, and then provide an evidence-based summary and clinical commentary on that research, André explained. The service then makes this work browseable by users online and across social media. The Mental Elf, for example, has over 100 expert contributors and around 45,000 regular users, all built up in its pilot phase. The service also boasts some 29,000 Twitter followers.

In response to user research, The Mental Elf is now also offering a number of additional services, which members can purchase through subscription, to enhance their experience of other core free services.  These comprise:

  • Tailored email alerts to keep users up to date with the latest reliable research
  • The ability to automatically track Continuous Professional Development and print certificates that summarise a user’s learning
  • Online journal clubs where members can interact to refine their critical appraisal skills
  • Reflective practice notes where subscribers can keep track of their learning
  • A networking function to help users connect with experts and colleagues in their field of interest


Why is it needed?

“It is evidently impossible for health and social care professionals in most fields to keep up to date with the avalanche of high quality evidence now being published,”André told me. “The sheer volume of high quality research is, of course, something very much to be celebrated, but if practitioners cannot absorb all of the important new knowledge, then patients do not benefit. Nor is it reasonable to demand that practitioners demonstrate continuous professional development without some way of navigating this sheer volume of research.”

Earlier this week André published a white paper with his colleague Douglas Badenoch which made the case for the National Elf Service. They reviewed evidence about the quantity of new research being published and concluded that “the balance of evidence is broadly supportive of our hypothesis that current, evidence-based summaries of important new research can help clinicians keep up to date and thereby improve patient care” (p. 8).

The Mental Elf has been phenomenally successful and generated a huge interest from mental health professionals. The Social Care Elf is similarly growing in popularity and reputation.

Reflecting on this, André said “To have initiated a successful professionals’ community venture like this is really exciting, because it is effectively clinical and care professionals putting their hands up and saying, ‘This is a really good idea. Let’s all work together to make it happen.’”



What are the benefits for us?

The National Elf Service adds functionality to the existing Elf services. One of the features of the new subscription service is the ability to track your own continuing professional development through using the service, including the option to print your own certificates.

I’m particularly attracted by the gamification tools where you can earn points for reading, contributing to and discussing blogs. It looks like a really fun way to engage with research and work towards becoming an Elf Guru! But then, I am a bit of a geek.

More information about the benefits of this service are available on the Mental Elf website, which is the first to join the National Elf Service. The Social Care Elf will be joining soon.

The mantra of the National Elf Service just about says it all:

  • No bias
  • No misinformation
  • No Spin
  • Just what you need


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