How to Write an Effective SOAP Note: Understanding the Essentials

In the fast-paced healthcare environment, SOAP notes are a vital tool for clear, concise patient documentation. They follow a structured format: Subjective (patient’s narrative), Objective (clinical findings), Assessment (diagnosis), and Plan (treatment and follow-up). Chartnote’s innovative AI, voice recognition, and smart templates streamline this essential process, enhancing efficiency and care quality for healthcare professionals.

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In the world of healthcare, precise and efficient communication is crucial. SOAP notes, an acronym for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan, play a pivotal role in the documentation of a patient’s condition and the plan for their care. This article aims to guide healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and therapists, on how to write a SOAP note effectively, with practical examples and descriptions. We will also briefly introduce how Chartnote’s innovative services can streamline this documentation process.

Understanding SOAP Note

What is a SOAP Note?

A SOAP note is a method of documentation employed by healthcare providers to write out notes in a patient’s chart, ensuring a clear, concise, and systematic way of tracking the patient’s progress. It’s an essential part of the patient’s medical record that helps in the continuity of care.

The Importance of SOAP Notes

SOAP notes are not just routine paperwork. They are vital for:

  1. Maintaining a consistent and standardized method for documenting patient information.
  2. Facilitating communication among healthcare providers.
  3. Ensuring legal and professional compliance.
  4. Aiding in the evaluation and modification of patient care plans.

How to Write a SOAP Note

S: Subjective

The subjective section is where the patient’s story is told. It includes the patient’s description of their symptoms or concerns. Here are key points to consider:

  • Chief complaint: Why the patient came for the visit.
  • History of Present Illness (HPI): Detailed narrative of the patient’s complaint.
  • Review of Symptoms (ROS): An inventory of body systems to uncover any additional problems.

O: Objective

The objective section is the healthcare provider’s findings from physical examinations, lab results, and other measurable data. Here’s what to include:

  • Vital signs: Blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, etc.
  • Physical exam findings.
  • Results from lab tests or imaging studies.

A: Assessment

The assessment is the healthcare provider’s diagnosis or interpretation of the patient’s condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the subjective and objective findings.
  • Differential diagnoses: A list of potential diagnoses based on the findings.
  • Final diagnosis or impression.

P: Plan

The plan outlines the steps to manage the patient’s condition. This section should address:

  • Treatment plan: Medications, therapies, or procedures.
  • Patient education: Information given to the patient about their condition and care.
  • Follow-up: Scheduling the next appointment or tests.

SOAP Note Examples

SOAP Note Example for Common Cold

  • Subjective: A 30-year-old male presents with a four-day history of runny nose, sore throat, and cough.
  • Objective: Temperature is 37.2°C, throat is erythematous, no nasal congestion.
  • Assessment: Likely upper respiratory tract infection, probably viral in nature.
  • Plan: Recommend rest, increased fluid intake, and over-the-counter cold remedies. Follow-up if symptoms worsen or do not improve in a week.

Progress Note Example for Hypertension Management

  • Subjective: Patient reports adherence to the prescribed diet and medication. No complaints of headaches or dizziness.
  • Objective: Blood pressure reading is 130/85 mmHg. Weight stable.
  • Assessment: Hypertension is well-controlled.
  • Plan: Continue current medication. Encourage ongoing lifestyle modifications. Follow-up in three months.

SOAP Note Assessment Examples for Diabetes

  • Subjective: Patient reports increased thirst and frequent urination.
  • Objective: Blood sugar level is 180 mg/dL. A1C is 7.8%.
  • Assessment: Diabetes, poorly controlled.
  • Plan: Adjust medication dosage. Refer to a dietitian for dietary management. Schedule follow-up in one month.

SOAP Note Description and Format


A SOAP note should be clear, concise, and well-organized. Each section should flow logically into the next, providing a comprehensive picture of the patient’s health status.


SOAP notes typically follow a standard format:

  1. Date and time of the note.
  2. Patient’s identifying information.
  3. The four sections: Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan.
  4. Sign-off by the healthcare provider.

Chartnote and SOAP Notes

As a healthtech company, Chartnote understands the importance of efficient and accurate documentation. Our services are designed to help clinicians expedite medical documentation through generative AI, voice recognition, and smart templates. These tools can significantly reduce the time spent on writing SOAP notes, allowing healthcare providers to focus more on patient care.

Chartnote’s platform offers:

  1. AI-assisted drafting of SOAP notes.
  2. Voice recognition for hands-free note-taking.
  3. Customizable templates that adhere to SOAP note formats.

By integrating Chartnote’s technology into your practice, you can streamline your workflow, reduce documentation errors, and enhance the overall quality of patient care.

How do you write a quick SOAP note?

Writing a quick yet effective SOAP note involves succinctly capturing the most critical information about a patient’s condition and your plan for their care. Here’s a streamlined approach:

1. Subjective (S):

  • Chief Complaint: Start with the patient’s main reason for the visit in one sentence.
  • Brief History: Include only pertinent history related to the chief complaint.
  • Key Symptoms: Note essential symptoms, focusing on the onset, location, duration, character, aggravating/alleviating factors, radiation, timing, severity, and associated symptoms.

2. Objective (O):

  • Vital Signs: Record temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation.
  • Focused Exam Findings: Document only relevant physical examination findings.
  • Critical Results: Include important lab or imaging results that are pertinent to the visit.

3. Assessment (A):

  • Diagnosis: State your primary diagnosis or differential diagnoses based on the S and O sections.
  • Problem List: If applicable, briefly update any ongoing issues.

4. Plan (P):

  • Treatment Plan: Outline the immediate treatment steps, including medications, therapies, or procedures.
  • Patient Education/Instructions: Summarize key advice or instructions given to the patient.
  • Follow-Up: Indicate any follow-up plans, additional tests, or referrals needed.

Example of a Quick SOAP Note:

  • S: “45-year-old male with a two-day history of sharp, right-sided chest pain, worsened with deep breaths.”
  • O: “BP 130/85, HR 78, RR 20, Temp 98.6°F. Chest exam reveals right-sided tenderness but clear lungs.”
  • A: “Suspected costochondritis.”
  • P: “Advise NSAIDs for pain, rest. Return if symptoms worsen. Follow-up in one week.”

Tips for Efficiency:

  • Prioritize: Focus on the most relevant information.
  • Be Concise: Use bullet points and abbreviations where appropriate.
  • Avoid Redundancies: Don’t repeat information in different sections.
  • Use Templates: Employ smart templates for common conditions to save time.

For even quicker documentation, Chartnote’s AI and voice recognition tools can assist in efficiently creating SOAP notes, allowing you to focus more on patient care while ensuring accurate and comprehensive records.

What is a SOAP note for anxiety?

A SOAP note for anxiety is a structured way of documenting a patient’s current anxiety symptoms, relevant history, and treatment plan. It’s essential for tracking the patient’s progress and ensuring continuity of care. Here’s a breakdown of what each section of the SOAP note might include for a patient presenting with anxiety:

Subjective (S):

  • Chief Complaint: The patient’s main reason for the visit, e.g., “I’ve been feeling extremely anxious and worried for the past month.”
  • History of Present Illness (HPI): Details about the anxiety symptoms, including onset, duration, triggers, and severity. Also, note any accompanying symptoms like insomnia, restlessness, or palpitations.
  • Past Medical History: Include any relevant history of mental health issues, including previous episodes of anxiety or depression.
  • Medications: List current medications, including any over-the-counter or herbal supplements.
  • Family History: Note any family history of anxiety or other mental health disorders.
  • Social History: Explore lifestyle factors that may impact anxiety, such as work stress, relationships, or substance use.

Objective (O):

  • Vital Signs: Blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature. Anxiety can sometimes manifest with elevated heart rate or blood pressure.
  • Mental Status Exam: Observe the patient’s appearance, behavior, speech, mood, affect, thought process, thought content, and cognition. Look for signs of anxiety like restlessness or difficulty concentrating.
  • Physical Exam: While the focus is on mental health, a brief physical examination to rule out other medical causes of anxiety symptoms can be relevant.

Assessment (A):

  • Diagnosis: Based on the subjective and objective information, provide a diagnosis. It could be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, or another relevant condition.
  • Differential Diagnoses: Consider other conditions that might present similarly, such as hyperthyroidism, depression, or substance-induced anxiety.

Plan (P):

  • Medication: If appropriate, prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Discuss the choice of medication, dosage, and potential side effects.
  • Therapy: Consider referring the patient for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or other relevant psychotherapies.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Recommend stress reduction techniques, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.
  • Education: Provide patient education about anxiety, its management, and the importance of adhering to the treatment plan.
  • Follow-Up: Schedule a follow-up appointment to monitor the patient’s response to treatment and adjust as needed.

Example SOAP Note for Anxiety:

  • S: “32-year-old female presents reporting persistent worry about various aspects of life, difficulty sleeping, and feeling on edge for the past three weeks.”
  • O: “BP 130/80, HR 88. Appears anxious and restless. Mental Status Exam shows intact cognition but increased worry and difficulty concentrating.”
  • A: “Probable Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
  • P: “Initiate low-dose SSRI, consider referral to a therapist for CBT. Encourage regular exercise and good sleep hygiene. Schedule a follow-up in four weeks to reassess symptoms and medication tolerance.”

Remember, each patient is unique, and the SOAP note should be tailored to their specific presentation and needs.

How do I create a SOAP note template?

Creating a SOAP note template is a practical approach to standardize and streamline your documentation process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to develop a flexible and comprehensive template suitable for a variety of patient encounters:

Step 1: Establish the Basic Structure

Your template should have four main sections, each designated for one element of SOAP:

  1. Subjective (S)
  2. Objective (O)
  3. Assessment (A)
  4. Plan (P)

Step 2: Detail Each Section

Subjective (S):

  • Chief Complaint (CC): A brief statement describing the reason for the visit.
  • History of Present Illness (HPI): Details about the current complaint, including onset, duration, intensity, aggravating/alleviating factors, associated symptoms, etc.
  • Past Medical History (PMH): Relevant past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations.
  • Medications: Current prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements.
  • Allergies: Document any known drug or food allergies.
  • Family History (FH): Notable health issues in the patient’s family.
  • Social History (SH): Lifestyle factors such as occupation, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use.
  • Review of Systems (ROS): Brief checklist or narrative about different body systems.

Objective (O):

  • Vital Signs: Blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, etc.
  • Physical Examination: Findings from the physical exam, relevant to the chief complaint and HPI.
  • Lab and Imaging Results: Recent or relevant test results.

Assessment (A):

  • Diagnoses: List of diagnoses or differential diagnoses based on the S and O sections.
  • Problem List: Ongoing issues or chronic conditions.

Plan (P):

  • Treatment: Medications, therapies, procedures, or lifestyle changes.
  • Patient Education: Information provided to the patient about their condition and care.
  • Follow-Up: Details on follow-up visits, additional tests, or referrals.

Step 3: Include Prompts and Checkboxes

  • To make the template user-friendly, include prompts or questions as placeholders to guide the healthcare provider.
  • For the ROS and PMH, consider using checkboxes for common conditions or symptoms to save time.

Step 4: Ensure Flexibility

  • Your template should be adaptable to different types of visits and patient conditions.
  • Leave enough space in each section for details that are specific to the patient’s visit.

Step 5: Integrate with Electronic Health Records (EHR)

  • If you use an EHR system, see if you can integrate your template into the system for easy use during patient encounters.
  • Check if your EHR system allows for customization of templates.

Step 6: Test and Revise

  • Use the template in real patient scenarios to determine its effectiveness and ease of use.
  • Revise as needed based on feedback from yourself and other users.

Step 7: Train and Implement

  • Train your staff on how to use the new template effectively.
  • Implement the template as a standard across your practice.

Example of a Basic SOAP Note Template

Date: _______  Time: _______
Patient Name: _______________________  DOB: _______  Gender: _______

Chief Complaint: _______________________________________________________
- Onset: __________ - Duration: _________ - Location: __________ - Severity: _______
- Aggravating/Alleviating Factors: _________________________________________
- Associated Symptoms: _________________________________________________
Past Medical History: ___________________________________________________
Medications: __________________________________________________________
Allergies: ____________________________________________________________
Family History: ________________________________________________________
Social History: ________________________________________________________
Review of Systems: 
- General: [ ] Weight loss [ ] Fever [ ] Fatigue
- Cardiovascular: [ ] Chest pain [ ] Palpitations
- [Add other systems as needed]

Vital Signs: BP: _____ HR: _____ RR: _____ Temp: _____ SpO2: _____
Physical Exam: 
- General Appearance: ________________________________________________
- HEENT: ___________________________________________________________
- Cardiovascular: ____________________________________________________
- Respiratory: _______________________________________________________
- [Other relevant systems]
Lab/Imaging Results: _________________________________________________

1. ____________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________
Problem List: ________________________________________________________

Treatment Plan: 
- Medications: _______________________________________________________
- Therapies/Procedures: _______________________________________________
Patient Education: ____________________________________________________
Follow-Up: __________________________________________________________

Provider Signature: ________________________

Remember, a SOAP note template is a dynamic tool. It should evolve with your practice and the needs of your patients. For a more advanced approach, incorporating AI and voice recognition tools from Chartnote could further enhance the efficiency and accuracy of your medical documentation.

Where do you put labs in a SOAP note?

In a SOAP note, laboratory results are typically included in the “Objective (O)” section. This section is designated for factual, measurable data obtained during the patient encounter, which includes findings from physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and laboratory results. Here’s how you can integrate lab results into the Objective section of a SOAP note:

  1. Relevant Lab Results: Include lab results that are pertinent to the current visit or the ongoing management of the patient’s condition. It’s important to focus on labs that contribute to the assessment and plan for the patient.
  2. Contextualize the Findings: When adding lab results, provide a brief interpretation or note any significant changes from previous results. This helps in understanding the patient’s current status and how it impacts your assessment and plan.
  3. Organized Format: Present the lab results in a clear, organized manner. You can list them as bullet points or in a table format. If there are multiple results, group them in a way that makes sense clinically, such as by organ system or by relevance to the diagnosis.
  4. Reference Values: For clarity, especially in a teaching or collaborative setting, you might include normal ranges next to the results.
  5. Date of Lab Draw: Include the date when the lab was taken, especially if the results are not from the same day as the SOAP note. This is crucial for tracking the progression or resolution of a medical issue.


In the Objective section of a SOAP note, the inclusion of lab results may look like this:

  • Vital Signs: BP 130/80, HR 78, Temp 98.6°F, RR 16
  • Physical Exam: [Brief relevant physical exam findings]
  • Lab Results:
  • CBC (01/25/2024): WBC 11.0 x10³/uL (Normal: 4.5-11.0), Hgb 13.5 g/dL (Normal: 13.8-17.2), Platelets 250 x10³/uL (Normal: 150-450)
  • BMP (01/25/2024): Sodium 140 mEq/L (Normal: 135-145), Potassium 4.2 mEq/L (Normal: 3.5-5.0), Creatinine 1.0 mg/dL (Normal: 0.6-1.2)
  • Liver Function Tests (01/24/2024): ALT 45 U/L (Normal: 7-56), AST 40 U/L (Normal: 8-48)

By presenting lab results in this manner, you’re providing a clear and comprehensive view of objective data that is vital for the assessment and subsequent planning of patient care. Remember, the utility of a SOAP note lies in its ability to communicate crucial information efficiently and clearly, so include only those lab results that are relevant to the patient’s current presentation and treatment plan.

What not to include in SOAP notes?

When writing SOAP notes, it’s crucial to maintain clarity and relevance to ensure they are effective and professional. Here’s a list of what not to include in SOAP notes:

1. Irrelevant Information:

  • Avoid including details that are not directly related to the patient’s current problem, treatment, or diagnosis. This can clutter the note and obscure important information.

2. Personal Opinions or Speculations:

  • Refrain from including personal opinions or assumptions about the patient’s condition or personal life. SOAP notes should be factual and based on observable or reported information.

3. Judgmental or Biased Language:

  • Use objective and professional language. Avoid terms or phrases that could be construed as judgmental or biased.

4. Redundant Information:

  • Do not repeat information that has already been documented in the same note. This can lead to confusion and make the note less efficient.

5. Informal Language or Slang:

  • Always use professional medical terminology. Avoid colloquialisms, slang, or overly casual language.

6. Unsubstantiated Conclusions:

  • Any diagnosis or assessment should be based on the evidence gathered in the subjective and objective sections. Avoid jumping to conclusions without supporting data.

7. Confidential or Identifiable Patient Information:

  • Be mindful of patient privacy and confidentiality. Do not include any information that could be used to identify the patient unless it is necessary and appropriate for the medical record.

8. Speculation about Future Events:

  • Avoid making predictions or guesses about the patient’s future condition or outcomes. Focus on the current assessment and plan.

9. Unnecessary Medical Jargon:

  • While medical terminology is important, overly complex jargon can make the note hard to understand, especially for interdisciplinary teams. Use clear and concise language.

10. Hypothetical or “What If” Scenarios:

  • Stick to the actual findings and patient statements. Avoid documenting hypothetical situations or “what if” scenarios.

11. Personal Notes or Reminders:

  • The SOAP note is a professional document and should not include personal reminders or notes to self that are not relevant to patient care.

12. Incomplete or Ambiguous Statements:

  • Ensure that all statements are complete and clear. Ambiguous or vague documentation can lead to misinterpretation and errors in patient care.

13. Uncorroborated Information from External Sources:

  • Avoid including information from third parties or external sources unless it has been verified and is relevant to the patient’s care.

Maintaining professionalism, relevance, and clarity in SOAP notes not only aids in effective patient care but also ensures legal and ethical compliance in medical documentation. As a healthcare provider, your documentation should be a clear, accurate, and focused reflection of each patient encounter.



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About Chartnote

Chartnote is revolutionizing medical documentation one note at a time by making generative AI, voice-recognition, and smart templates available to any clinician. We know first-hand that completing notes while treating patients is time-consuming and an epic challenge. Chartnote was developed as a complementary EHR solution to write your SOAP notes faster. Focus on what matters most. Sign up for a free account: