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How to Write a Comprehensive SOAP Note

For therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals, documenting client interactions and their progress are a critical part of treatment. Documenting every encounter is also very important to the health of your private practice. One of the most common and effective techniques to document a session is called writing SOAP notes. In this post, we will review what SOAP notes are, how to write a SOAP note, tips for effective SOAP notes, and a template you can use for your SOAP notes.

Download Our comprehensive SOAP Note Template for mental health professionals and other medical professionals for easy note taking and digital storage of client notes:

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What are SOAP Notes?

So what are SOAP notes? According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “The Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan (SOAP) note is an acronym representing a widely used method of documentation for healthcare providers. The SOAP note is a way for healthcare workers to document in a structured and organized way.”

SOAP notes are an essential tool practitioners use to record the health status of their patients as well as an easily understood and organized communication tool between healthcare professionals.



History of SOAP Notes

SOAP notes were originally developed by Dr. Lawrence Weed in the 1960’s at the University of Vermont. Dr. Weed was motivated to create notes where physicians could distinguish between various problems to make better clinical decision making. Before Dr. Weed’s SOAP note, there was no standardized process for medical documentation, making it more difficult for medical professionals to communicate with each other. Initial SOAP note users were able to retrieve patient records for a given medical problem much faster than previously done before. Overall, the invention of the SOAP note enhanced the practice of medicine and improved health outcomes for millions of patients worldwide.

Why are SOAP Notes Important for Private Counseling Practices?

Creating effective SOAP Notes are invaluable to running a thriving private practice. We asked Dr. Carolina Raeburn about why that is:

“Soap notes make the most clinically relevant information easy to find. SOAP notes help a private practice by providing organization, clarity, and a framework for clinical reasoning”

Having an easy to use SOAP note like our editable PDF SOAP notes allow practitioners to easily store client and patient notes, organized by each session that they attend.

SOAP Notes are extremely helpful in counseling. They offer a way for psychologists, therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals to consistently and clearly organize each patient’s visits, and can be used and understood quickly by other practitioners.

Who Uses SOAP Notes?

SOAP notes are beneficial to many different types of professionals in the medical or health fields including:

  • Medical doctors, like family medicine doctors, who need to take clinical notes about their patients
  • Counseling and mental health professionals
  • Social workers
  • Holistic healers
  • Physical therapists
  • Speech therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Pharmacists
  • Nurses
  • Estheticians
  • Massage therapists



How to Write a SOAP Note

In this section, we are going to outline each section of a SOAP note and what to include under each section. Let’s break down each section of SOAP:

HOW TO WRITE SOAP NOTES - Subjective

S: Subjective

“Subjective” is the first heading of a SOAP note. This section contains the “subjective” experiences, personal views, or feelings of the patient or someone close to them.

Chief Complaint (CC)

The chief complaint, or the problem being presented by the patient, can be a symptom, condition, previous diagnosis, or another statement about what the patient is experiencing currently.

The chief complaint will give the reader of your SOAP note a good sense about what the document entails. Some examples of a Chief Complaint for someone in the mental health field include: Feelings of prolonged unhappiness.

A patient may have more than one Chief Complaint. Their first complaint may not be the most significant one. It’s important to get your patient to state all of their problems so that you can determine which problem is the most significant. Finding the main problem is important to perform effective and efficient diagnosis of your patient.

History of Present Illness (HPI)

The history of present illness is a simple, 1 line opening statement that includes your patient’s age, sex and reason for the visit

Here is an example: 16 year old female experiencing prolonged unhappiness

The HPI section is where your patient can elaborate on their chief complaint. This section should include:

  • Onset: When did your patient’s Chief Complaint start?
  • Location: Where is your patient’s Chief Complaint located?
  • Duration: How long has your patient’s Chief Complaint been going on for?
  • Characterization: How does your patient describe their Chief Complaint?
  • Alleviating and Aggravating factors: What situations or factors make your patient’s Chief Complaint better or worse?
  • Radiation: Does your patient’s Chief Complaint stay in the same area or does it move to new areas?
  • Temporal factor: Is the CC worse (or better) at a certain time of the day?
  • Severity: Using a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least, 10 being the worst, how does the patient rate the CC?

History

You should review different aspects of your patients history including but not limited to:

  • Medical history
  • Surgical history
  • Family history
  • Social history

Review of Systems (ROS)

Reviewing of systems is a system-based approach that helps you uncover any symptoms not mentioned by your patient previously.

Current Medications, Allergies

In this section, you should include the medication name, dose, route, and how often your patient takes medications, if applicable.

What to Avoid in the Subjective Section

Don’t include general statements in the Objective section without facts that supports your statement. You should also not include opinions that are unsourced.

HOW TO WRITE SOAP NOTES Objective

O: Objective

The next section of SOAP is the Objective. This includes items that are objective (hence the name!), such as:

  • Your patient’s vital signs
  • Findings from your patient’s physical examination
  • Data from lab tests
  • Results from xrays and other imaging
  • Other diagnostic data
  • Review of documentation from other clinicians

What to Avoid in the Objective Section

Don’t include general statements in the Objective section without data that supports your statement.

HOW TO WRITE SOAP NOTES Assessment

A: Assessment

The assessment section of SOAP takes into consideration both the Subjective and Objection sections to create a diagnosis of your patient. This section includes a few subsections including:

Problems

In this subsection of Assessment, list out the problems your patient has in order of importance. A problem is often known as a diagnosis.

Differential Diagnosis

In this subsection, you will create a list of different possible diagnosis. At the top of this list should be the most likely diagnosis, followed by less likely in order. In this subsection, your decision-making process should be outlined in detail. You should also include a possibility of other diagnosis and how each could affect your patient.

What to Avoid in the Assessment Section

Don’t rewrite what you have written in your Subjective and Objective sections.

HOW TO WRITE SOAP NOTES Plan

P: Plan

The final section of SOAP is the Planning section. this section addresses the need for additional testing and potential consultation with other clinicians to address any of your patient’s illnesses.

This section should also address any additional steps you’re taking to treat your patient. The Planning section helps future professionals to understand what needs to be done next.

For each problem, you should include:

  • Testing needed and why you chose this test
  • Medication needed
  • Specialist referrals required
  • Education or counseling for your patient

What to Avoid in the Plan Section

You should avoid rewriting your entire treatment plan. This is the section that should specify next steps in reaching your patient’s goals.


Advantages of SOAP Notes

SOAP notes are great because they create a uniform system of your patient’s information. Without SOAP notes or other similar organized methods, every document would be different and difficult to quickly glance through for medical professionals. Here are some advantages of SOAP notes:

  • SOAP notes are uniform system of tracking your patient’s information
  • SOAP notes help other medical professionals thoroughly understand your patient’s issues
  • SOAP notes help organize the most accurate information so that treatment can be the best possible
  • SOAP notes adopt medical terms that most everyone in the medical field understands

Disadvantages of SOAP Notes

While the advantages of SOAP notes are many, here are a few disadvantages:

  • Some practitioners note the excessive amount of acronyms and abbreviations used in SOAP notes
  • SOAP notes that are hand written can be difficult to read from practitioner to practitioner (or even the same practitioner)

Tips for Effective Soap Notes

SOAP notes are only a tool to help practitioners. We are going to highlight tips for effective SOAP notes.

1. Write SOAP notes at the appropriate times

Avoid writing SOAP notes when you’re seeing your patient. You should be taking personal notes to help you write your SOAP notes later. Also, try not to wait too long to create your SOAP notes.

2. Maintain a Professional Voice

You should use a professional voice throughout your SOAP notes. Avoid informal language.

3. Be Specific and To the Point

You should avoid vague descriptions or wordy descriptions.

4. Avoid Overly Positive or Overly Negative Phrasing

You should not interject overly positive or negative slants in your SOAP notes.

5. Don’t Be Overly Subjective Without Evidence

You should avoid using blanket statements or statements that aren’t backed up by evidence.

6. Be Accurate and Non Judgmental

Your SOAP notes should be professional in tone and non judgmental. A good way to think about this is to imagine writing your SOAP notes for your patient’s family member to read. Will it offend them?

SOAP Note Example in Counseling

If you need to see a SOAP Note example, review below:

Our comprehensive SOAP note example for counseling is comprehensive and allows practitioners to take thorough patient notes. We’ve also included a simple SOAP note template which can beneficial in some situations.

Conclusion on SOAP Notes

We hope this post has been helpful to you on how to write a SOAP note. SOAP notes are an incredible tool you can use to properly keep track of patients and provide them with the best possible treatment. SOAP notes are also incredibly valuable for keeping your private practice healthy. While note taking is one of the most tedious and confusing process to do when treating patients, it’s is absolutely necessary.


Download Our Editable Comprehensive SOAP Note Template PDF

Ready to download our comprehensive SOAP note template?  Download our editable pdf SOAP Note Template for mental health professionals:

DOWNLOAD TEMPLATE

Our simple and comprehensive SOAP notes will help you organize your clients notes digitally so that you can easily find and access them at any given time.

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Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Anthony Bart is a huge mental health advocate. He has primarily positioned his marketing expertise to work with mental health professionals so that they can help as many patients as possible. He is currently the owner of BartX, TherapistX, and TherapyByPro.

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