Mastering Medical Communication: The PACE Approach

Clear and effective communication plays a vital role in medical practice, especially for international doctors seeking to improve their English proficiency.

Let me introduce you to the PACE acronym—a powerful tool for efficient medical communication.
PACE stands for Pause, Ask, Clarify, and Empathise/Explain. By embracing this approach, international doctors can enhance their language skills and foster better connections with patients.

The PACE Approach

Pause: Embrace the Power of Silence in Medical Communications

The first element of the PACE approach is “Pause.” It reminds you to allow a brief moment of silence—between two to three seconds—before responding to patients or colleagues. And, by incorporating this pause, you demonstrate active listening and create space for thoughtful and meaningful responses. This intentional silence conveys respect, professionalism, and attentiveness, enhancing the overall communication experience.

Ask: Do not make Assumptions

The “Ask” step emphasises the importance of asking questions rather than immediately providing information or assumptions. It is an effective way to gather more detailed information from patients. Ask open-ended questions to encourage patients to share additional information, express concerns, or convey any worries they may have. Engaging in active inquiry fosters patient engagement, promotes trust, and helps you gain a comprehensive understanding of the patient’s condition. Try using some ICE questions to fully understand your patients such as “What are you concerned that it might be?””

Clarify: Check you understand.

The “Clarify” element of the PACE approach emphasises the need to confirm your understanding of the patient’s feelings, complaints, and worries. Use checking questions, echoing techniques, and summaries to validate your comprehension of their narrative. For example, you can ask questions like “What you mean is…” or “Let me just check that I’ve got the full story.” Seeking clarification ensures accurate communication, helps avoid misinterpretations, and facilitates precise diagnosis and appropriate treatment plans. More importantly, your patient will feel heard and report a higher degree of satification with the consultation.

Empathise/Explain: Build Trust and Provide Clear Communication

The final element of PACE involves both empathy and explanation. First, empathise. Acknowledge the information your patient provides by employing echoing techniques, such as repeating key phrases or using non-verbal techniques such as a simple nod. This simple act of recognition demonstrates your attentiveness and fosters a compassionate connection with the patient.

After empathising, proceed to explain medical concepts or treatment options in a clear and understandable manner. Seek the patient’s consent to provide explanations related to their condition, or available treatments. Use plain language that patients can easily comprehend, avoiding complex medical jargon. Effective explanation empowers patients to make informed decisions regarding their health and promotes their overall well-being.

Achieving Optimal Medical Communication as an International Doctor

Enhancing English proficiency in medical communication is a significant goal for international doctors. The PACE approach provides a valuable framework to achieve this objective. By implementing these principles, you can improve your language skills, foster better doctor-patient relationships, and ensure accurate and empathetic medical communication. Embracing the PACE approach enables international doctors to provide optimal care while bridging language barriers and positively impacting patient outcomes.

Why not try it with your next patient?

Rachel Williams is an experienced Medical English teacher and former nurse. She helps international doctors pass the OET exam, become more fluent speakers and gain the confidence to use the English that they have studied in real life situations.