Tips for Working with Healthcare Professionals
This information is intended as a general introduction to this topic. As each person is affected differently by balance and dizziness problems, speak with your health care professional for individual advice.
Get the most out of your appointments
Advance preparation can help you get the most out of limited time with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Suggestions include:
- Gather your personal health information
And take it to initial appointments. Include:
- Names and contact information for other healthcare professionals who work with you.
- List of all medications you take, including non-prescription vitamins and supplements. Note the amount of each you take at one time as well as how often you take it. You may find it easier to bring your medications to your first appointment with a healthcare professional.
- List of all medications you have previously tried for your balance and dizziness condition, including how you responded and side effects.
- List of any tests related to your condition, including the date, where they were done, and, if you have them, the reports.
- Contact information for your usual pharmacy.
- Your physical and any mental health problems and their treatment/management plans. Consider asking your family doctor to help you make and/or check the list.
- Family history of any conditions that cause dizziness and/or imbalance.
- Any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Write down your symptoms
Our Symptoms page includes many terms you can use to describe sensations of dizziness and imbalance.
- how often you have symptoms and how long they last
- when your dizziness and/or imbalance first started
- what, if anything, triggers your symptoms or makes them worse
- how your symptoms have changed (or stayed the same) over time
Consider keeping a Health Diary. This is an easy way to keep track of your symptoms. Bring it to all appointments.
- Make the most of limited time
Appointments with most healthcare professionals are short. Thinking about and taking a list of your needs and questions can help you get the most out of appointments. Rank items in priority order and focus on the most important issue first. If you save your main issue for last, it may get the least amount of time. Consider sharing the list with your healthcare professional at the beginning of your appointment. Based on medical information, they may suggest a different priority order. If you have many things on your mind, you may need to book a follow-up appointment.
- Be an active participant
Make the best of each opportunity to communicate with healthcare professionals. Ask questions that help them think through your symptoms and their approach (for example, “What else is on your list of possible diagnoses?” or “What possibilities will these tests rule out?”).
- Ask for more explanation
If you do not understand something a healthcare professional has said, ask questions. Unless you tell a healthcare professional that you do not understand something, they will assume that you do. Vestibular disorders can be complex and hard to understand. Repeat or summarize what the health professional has said, in your own words, to make sure you understand correctly. If they tend to use “medical speak,” ask for an explanation in plain language.
If a doctor prescribes a new medication, orders tests, or sends you to another specialist, ask questions. For example, ask why, what it involves, whether there are side effects, what the test results will help explain or decide, and what to expect when the results are back.
- Ask for information in writing
Written information can help you remember important points and can help loved ones better understand your condition. Ask for a written explanation of technical terms and anything else you don’t understand. When seeing a vestibular therapist, ask for written explanations of home exercises and ask questions if something is unclear.
Build your own healthcare team
When you have a complex and/or chronic vestibular disorder, you may have a number of professionals working with you. Think of them as your healthcare team and remember that you're working in partnership with them. By taking an active role in your healthcare, you'll feel more in control. Ideas to consider:
- Write down the names of your healthcare professionals
As well, note what they do in your care. Give each professional you see a copy of this information.
- Ask your family doctor to coordinate your care
They will know all the tests, medicines, and treatments you are getting and help with any problems. Confirm that your specialist doctors and other healthcare professionals are sharing their treatment and management plans with your family doctor.
- Be clear about your needs
You know your body best. You know, for example, what makes your symptoms flare up. Share this information with healthcare professionals at the start of appointments. Be explicit about how you want them to work with you. For example, if lying with your head back makes you dizzy, ask for your head to be raised as much as possible when at the dentist or during medical imaging. Clinicians will do their best to accommodate you, but you need to speak up.
- Look for facilitators not “fixers”
Find healthcare professionals who empower you to take control of your condition rather than making you feel like you need to rely on them alone. Many people with chronic balance and dizziness conditions meet “fixers” and this can lead to false hope and over-reliance. Some healthcare professionals may not fully your condition and may make you feel it is “all in your head". If you find that a healthcare professional is not supporting you effectively in managing your condition, do not be afraid to look for someone new. It is important to have the right people on your team to facilitate your self-management and support you along the way.
- Keep the members of your team up to date
Let them know what has happened since your last visit, including any new symptoms, treatment/management plans or medications.
- Think about how you present your requests
Demanding medications or tests is not a helpful strategy. Ask questions clearly and in a reasonable tone of voice.
- Be respectful – and expect respect
Listen carefully to what healthcare professionals say. And expect them to listen to you. Make sure the healthcare professionals you see are a good fit for you.
- Keep your temper in check
There may be times when you are upset or frustrated about your care. Try to let healthcare professionals know about how you feel without lashing out.
- Sort out conflicting advice
If you get different advice or directions from different healthcare professionals, say so right away. Ask one professional to call the other, talk about the best approach, and report back to you.
- Be open and honest
Talk to your healthcare providers about your lifestyle and relationships at home and at work. This will help them assess lifestyle factors that might be contributing to your dizziness and/or imbalance.
- Accept that healthcare professionals have different styles
Vestibular specialists are few and far between. Some with excellent clinical abilities lack “people skills”. Remember that you're not there to make a friend. All you need is to be able to communicate about the important aspects of your condition. Be persistent while remaining calm, reasonable, and objective.
Managing your healthcare is easier and less stressful when you're organized. Keeping things in order also helps you communicate better with your healthcare team. Ideas to consider:
- Keep track of upcoming appointments
Use whatever calendar system works best for you to make sure you don't miss, or are late for, appointments.
- Update your healthcare record
Make a note of any changes right after each appointment. Let healthcare professionals know what has changed at your next visit.
- Keep a record of your appointments and tests
Include information about what was discussed at your last appointment, including things like new or changed treatment or management plans, home exercises, and test results. Keep everything in one place, such as a written logbook or computer file. This makes it easier to look back and find a specific bit of information.
What to do if your symptoms are dismissed or ignored
If you feel that a healthcare professional is not really listening or paying attention to your concerns, advocate for yourself. Here are some suggestions:
- Look for a different healthcare professional
If you feel that your concerns are being dismissed or ignored and your symptoms are getting worse, find someone else. This may be challenging if it's your family doctor. It may take time to find a suitable replacement. As a last resort, consider going to a walk-in or non-urgent care clinic where you can see a doctor without an appointment. Bring along your personal information as well as any test results you may have.
- Ask for a second opinion
A fresh set of eyes can be helpful. You may need to see multiple specialists until you find the one with the right experience to figure out your problem. If you're asking for a second opinion, especially from a sub-specialist (such as a neuro-otologist) keep in mind that your options may be limited, especially in some provinces and territories.
- Think about how you've presented your symptoms
Sometimes a symptom is not really ignored by a healthcare professional but just lost in a long list. The clinician may think of it as an irrelevant detail even though it is of great concern to you. Circle back to your symptom before the end of the appointment, being persistent and polite.
Self-care while waiting for appointments
Dizziness and imbalance often are short-term conditions that get better on their own. In other cases, there can be a wait time before diagnosis or treatment. In both cases, simple self-care strategies may help. These include:
- Slow down
Take your time when changing to a standing position so you don't feel dizzy.
- Drink plenty of fluids
Usually a sign of good hydration is clear or pale-yellow urine. If you feel thirsty, you're likely already dehydrated.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sodium (salt), and tobacco
These substances can increase dizziness.
- Stay away from crowded and visually busy spaces
They may provoke dizziness.
- Look at a fixed object nearby
This can help with bouts of visually induced vertigo.
- Practice relaxation techniques
Stress and anxiety can increase your dizziness symptom. Relaxation techniques may help.
- Reduce your risk of falling
Learn - and use - falls prevention techniques.
- Try to stay in the present moment
Focus on what you can effectively do right now, rather than worrying about what might happen in the future.
- Slow down