The role of health professionals

With such an obvious difficulty in getting treatment to those who need it the Department considers the role of health-care professionals to be key in reducing harm. As the PC Report points out: "Equipping professionals with information, a screening tool and appropriate referral options (including where to access self-help material and online counselling) could increase opportunities for earlier intervention among people who are not actively seeking formal help for gambling." (P 7.16).

Realising that many health professionals, particularly GPs, have limited time, a simple one-item screening test is recommended:

The screen: 'Have you ever had an issue with your gambling?' is recommended for patients presenting with anxiety and depressive symptoms or high drug or alcohol use. There is a high co-morbidity of those conditions with problem gambling.

Answers to this question closely predict answers to the full Canadian Problem Gambling Index tool, the standard assessment measure in Australia.

From Canadian research:

There are a variety of signs that indicate a patient has a problem with gambling. These include complaints about headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders and insomnia, as well as diet and nutrition issues. Mental health complaints like depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and other physical symptoms associated with stress can also be a result of problem gambling. Including questions about gambling in your patient assessment should be as routine as asking about a patient’s alcohol and tobacco use, particularly for patients with risk factors, such as present or previous problems with substance use, depression and anxiety (concurrent disorders). Primary-care physicians should consider asking all high-risk patients about their gambling habits. (Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario).