What are SOAP Notes?

Posted by: Alok Prasad

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In the realm of healthcare and medical documentation, effective communication is paramount. Professionals across disciplines rely on standardized methods to share patient information, ensuring accuracy and comprehensiveness. Among these methods is a tool that has stood the test of time: the SOAP format. This acronym represents a systematic approach to documenting critical patient details, broken down into four key components – Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan.

This format, originally developed by Dr. Lawrence Weed in the 1960s as part of the Problem-Oriented Medical Record (POMR) system, has since become a cornerstone in many healthcare settings. The aim? To offer a clear, organized, and consistent means of communicating patient progress, assessment, and future actions among care teams. As you delve deeper, you'll uncover the significance and application of each segment, revealing the integral role they play in the continuum of care.

Definition of SOAP Note

The SOAP note is a widely used documentation method in healthcare that stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. It is a structured way of recording patient information that helps healthcare providers provide high-quality patient care, communicate effectively with other providers, organize data logically, and support clinical decision-making. It is an essential tool for healthcare professionals to accurately document patient encounters and ensure coordinated care.

Purpose of SOAP Notes

They are widely used in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and other healthcare providers use SOAP notes to document patient encounters such as routine check-ups, emergencies, and hospitalizations. These notes are also used to track a patient's condition over time and for billing and insurance purposes.

Why is it important to learn about SOAP notes?

Learning about SOAP notes is essential for several reasons:

  1. Effective communication: As SOAP notes are widely used in the medical field, healthcare providers must understand how to create and interpret them accurately. This ensures that important patient information is effectively communicated among healthcare providers.
  2. Better patient care: Accurate and complete SOAP notes are essential for high-quality patient care. They help healthcare providers keep track of a patient's medical history, symptoms, and treatment plan, which is important for making informed decisions about patient care.
  3. Legal and regulatory compliance: SOAP notes are used for documentation and billing purposes and are often used in legal proceedings related to medical malpractice. Therefore, understanding how to create accurate and complete SOAP notes is important for healthcare providers to comply with legal and regulatory requirements.
  4. Career development: The knowledge of SOAP notes is an invaluable skill that healthcare professionals should possess as it is an essential component of medical documentation. It can also be a requirement for professional certification and licensure.

In summary, learning about SOAP notes is important for effective communication among healthcare providers, better patient care, legal and regulatory compliance, and career development.

Acronym SOAP Explained

These are the four sections of a SOAP note, a widely used method of documenting patient information in the medical field.

  1. Subjective: This section of the SOAP note includes information that the patient has reported, such as symptoms, concerns, and medical history. This information is based on the patient's subjective experience and is usually recorded in the patient's own words.
  2. Objective: This section includes information gathered through observation, examination, and testing. This can include vital signs, physical exam findings, laboratory and diagnostic test results, and other objective data that can be measured or observed.
  3. Assessment: This section includes the healthcare provider's assessment or diagnosis of the patient's condition based on the subjective and objective information gathered. It may also include impressions or conclusions drawn from the information provided.
  4. Plan: This section includes the healthcare provider's plan for treatment or management of the patient's condition based on the assessment. It may include medications prescribed, procedures recommended, referrals to other healthcare providers, and follow-up instructions.

In SOAP notes, all relevant information is recorded and easily accessible to other healthcare providers involved in patient care. This contributes to a seamless healthcare service.


The subjective section is filled based on the patient's personal experience. Information that may be covered in the subjective section includes:

  1. Chief complaint: The main reason the patient is seeking medical attention. It could be a specific symptom, such as chest pain or headache, or a more general concern, like feeling unwell.
  2. Symptoms: Any other symptoms the patient is experiencing, such as coughing, fatigue, or nausea.
  3. Medical history: Information about the patient's past and current medical conditions, including any chronic illnesses or diseases, allergies, surgeries, or hospitalizations.
  4. Family history: The patient's family's medical history, including any hereditary or genetic conditions.
  5. Social history: information about the patient's lifestyle and social factors relevant to their health, such as smoking, alcohol or drug use, and occupation.
  6. Review of systems: A systematic review of the patient's body systems, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurological, is conducted to identify any additional symptoms or concerns.

The information gathered in the subjective section is important for establishing a baseline for the patient's health status and determining the appropriate course of treatment. It also helps healthcare providers understand the patient's perspective and concerns and is essential for building trust and rapport.


This section provides an objective view of the patient's condition and helps healthcare providers make informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment. Here are some examples of the type of information included in the objective section:

  1. Vital signs: Measurements of the patient's vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature.
  2. Physical examination findings: A detailed examination of the patient's body systems and physical condition. This includes skin color, the appearance of the eyes, throat, and ears, and palpation of different organs such as the abdomen, lymph nodes, etc.
  3. Diagnostic tests: Results from laboratory tests, such as blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies, such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.
  4. Medication: The medication the patient takes or is administered during the visit.
  5. Patient history: Any relevant information obtained from the patient or their medical records, including prior medical conditions and procedures.

By documenting this objective information, healthcare providers can track changes in patient conditions over time and adjust treatment plans accordingly. Additionally, this information can be used to communicate with other healthcare providers involved in the patient's care.


This section covers inferences drawn from conducted tests and diagnoses. It may also include impressions or conclusions drawn from the information provided. Here are some examples of the type of information that the healthcare provider may include in the assessment section:

  1. Diagnosis: The diagnosis of the patient's condition is based on the subjective and objective information gathered. It may include a list of possible diagnoses if it is unclear or further testing is needed.
  2. Impressions: This describes the healthcare provider's conclusions based on the information provided. Impressions may include the severity of the patient's condition or the likelihood of certain diagnoses.
  3. Plan for further testing: If additional tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis, the healthcare provider may outline a plan for further testing or a referral to a specialist.
  4. Prognosis details the healthcare provider's assessment of the patient's expected outcome or course of treatment.

The SOAP note records the patient's progress over time by recording the healthcare provider's assessment of the patient's condition. This information is then communicated to other healthcare providers involved in the patient's care, such as consulting physicians or specialists. Consequently, continuity of care is guaranteed.


This section shows the plan of action. Here are some examples of the type of information that may be included in the plan section:

  1. Treatment plan: The healthcare provider's plan for addressing the patient's condition. This may include medication, therapy, or other interventions.
  2. Medications: A list of medications prescribed, including the dose, frequency, and duration of treatment
  3. Follow-up care: The healthcare provider's plan for follow-up care, which may include additional appointments, laboratory tests, or referrals to specialists
  4. Patient education: Any instructions or information provided to the patient to help them manage their condition or improve their health.
  5. Prognosis: A description of the expected outcome of the patient's treatment and the projected course of recovery

By recording this plan, the SOAP note guides all healthcare providers to follow in managing patient care.

Common errors made when creating SOAP notes

  1. Incomplete information: SOAP notes should include all relevant information about a patient's condition, including subjective and objective data, the healthcare provider's assessment, and the treatment plan. Failure to include any of these elements results in an incomplete or inaccurate patient care record.
  2. Lack of objectivity: The objective section of the SOAP note should be free of personal opinions or biases. Healthcare providers should only report what they observe or measure without making assumptions or judgments about the patient's condition.
  3. Inaccurate assessment: The assessment section of the SOAP note should be based on the subjective and objective data gathered and reflect the healthcare provider's professional judgment. If the assessment is inaccurate or incomplete, it can lead to an inappropriate treatment plan.
  4. Vague or unclear language: SOAP notes should use clear, concise, easy-to-understand language. That way, it is easily understood by other healthcare providers. Vague or unclear language can lead to misinterpretation or confusion and negatively impact patient care.
  5. Failure to update the note: SOAP notes should be updated regularly to reflect changes in the patient's condition or treatment plan. Failure to update SOAP notes causes inaccurate or incomplete patient care records.
  6. Illegible handwriting: This can make it difficult for other healthcare providers to read and understand the SOAP note. Healthcare providers should ensure they write legibly and use standard medical abbreviations when appropriate. Alternatively, they may use electronic medical records to avoid this issue.

Benefits of SOAP Notes

Accurate and complete SOAP notes are critical in healthcare for several reasons.

  1. Communication: SOAP notes provide a structured and organized method for healthcare providers to communicate with each other about a patient's care. The notes are a common format for documenting important information about a patient's condition so it can be easily shared among healthcare providers.
  2. Continuity of care: SOAP notes ensure continuity of care by providing a clear and concise summary of a patient's condition and treatment plan. As a patient moves through different healthcare settings or sees multiple healthcare providers, the SOAP notes remain a reference for ensuring that the patient's care is consistent and appropriate.
  3. Better patient outcomes: By using a structured format to document a patient's condition, healthcare providers can make more informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment. This may result in better patient outcomes and improved quality of care.
  4. Legal protection: SOAP notes can serve as legal documentation in the event of a malpractice lawsuit or other legal action. By documenting the patient's condition, treatment plan, and response to treatment, healthcare providers can protect themselves in case of a legal challenge.
  5. Quality improvement: SOAP notes can be used to track patient outcomes and identify areas for quality improvement. By analyzing the data in SOAP notes, healthcare providers can identify patterns and trends in patient care and make changes to improve the quality and effectiveness of care.

Paving the way for Electronic Medical Records

SOAP notes have paved the way for electronic medical records (EMRs) in several ways:

  1. Standardization: SOAP notes provide a standardized format for documenting patient information. EMRs use a similar format to SOAP notes, making it easier for healthcare providers to transition to electronic documentation.
  2. Organization: SOAP notes provide a structured way to organize patient information, making it easier for healthcare providers to locate and review vital data. EMRs build on this structure, providing healthcare providers quick access to patient records and enabling them to identify needed information easily. 
  3. Efficiency: SOAP notes and EMRs both help healthcare providers work more efficiently. Electronic records are easier to update and share than paper records, which can reduce the time and effort required to document patient information.
  4. Accuracy: Electronic records are less prone to errors than paper records since they can be automatically checked for completeness and accuracy. This can improve the quality of patient care by ensuring that healthcare providers have access to accurate and up-to-date information.
  5. Integration: EMRs can be integrated with other healthcare systems, such as billing and scheduling software, to create a seamless patient care experience. This ensures that all patient care aspects are well coordinated and aligned, improving patient outcomes. 

To summarize, accurate and complete SOAP notes are critical in healthcare for providing high-quality patient care, effective communication, legal protection, quality improvement, and continuity of care. They have also paved the way for electronic medical records due to their clarity and conciseness.

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