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Research findings at your fingertips

This week I provided a quote for a publicity campaign for a new iPhone app. It’s not something I usually do (probably because no-one’s asked me to do it before!), but I was very happy to do it because this particular app helps to make research more accessible.

The Mental Elf has released an iPhone app which brings the latest content from his website to your phone (if you have one – I had to test it on my partner’s phone while I wait for the Android app to be released later this year). If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at the Mental Elf Service for accessible reports on new research findings of relevance to mental health practitioners.

The Mental Elf writes a post each day on a new piece of high quality research. His posts are so timely that they frequently arrive before I receive email notifications of journal contents from publishers. They are written in an informal and accessible style accurately highlighting the key findings of relevant studies and their implications for practice.

For example, last week he wrote a piece on a British Medical Journal paper which reported the findings of a Danish randomised controlled trial of assertive outreach. It found that it was no more effective than standard care at preventing subsequent suicide attempts in young people who had already tried to take their own lives. I’m not particularly surprised at these findings as UK trials of assertive outreach teams have found that they produce no better outcomes than the care provided by ‘routine’ community mental health teams. However, his post prompted a discussion on his website about research methodology which helps to place this particular study in a wider context.

The iPhone app alerts you to new posts when they are published online, which is usually first thing in the morning so you can read up on the latest research on your way to work. It has a host of other features including an option to search the Mental Elf archive, a space where you can take notes on posts or share the latest research findings with your colleagues.

If you are wondering, I have no financial stake in promoting this app. I just think it’s a really good way to access research findings quickly and easily. As social work blogger Ermintrude highlighted in a recent post on The Not So Big Society blog, keeping up to date with research is not easy for practitioners. Subscriptions for journals are prohibitively expensive and there simply isn’t the time to wade through mountains of abstracts in databases to find papers of relevance. Political machinations which restrict access to the British Journal of Social Work don’t help either. Further, there aren’t many open access social work journals, though I have compiled a list of the ones I’ve come across and others relevant to mental health social workers on my ‘resources’ page if you’re interested.

The only limitation with the Mental Elf app is that its content is not specifically targeted at mental health social workers or other social care workers working with people with mental health problems. Whilst it is generally applicable across the spectrum of mental health professions, its focus on psychological and pharmacological interventions may prompt some social workers to uninstall it. But that’s not the fault of the Mental Elf – it merely reflects the dominance of psychology and psychiatry in determining the evidence base for mental health practice.

I have spoken to Andre Tomlin, the information scientist behind the Mental Elf, about starting up a Social Elf to provide research digests for social workers and social care workers. He has also created the Learning Disabilities Elf, amongst others within the National Elf Service, so a Social Elf is not entirely inconceivable. Perhaps this could be a joint venture with the Social Care Institute for Excellence?

Over to you, Andre…

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