4 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing SOAP Notes

Thorough, consistent documentation of your interactions with your clients and their progress are vital parts of treatment. They’re also important to the overall health of your practice. But, it can be tedious to take notes after every session for every client, especially if you’re seeing many people in a day. Consider using a template, like SOAP notes, to streamline your
note-taking process.

What are SOAP Notes?

The Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan (SOAP) note is a widely used documentation method for healthcare providers. They offer a structured, standardized way for you to take notes after each session, so that it’s easier for you to track your clients’ progress over time. Plus, it makes it easier to collaborate with other providers when needed.

Since all SOAP notes follow the same structure, all your information is clearly laid out in digestible parts, making it easy for any provider—including yourself—to read the note at a later date and know exactly what’s going on in a client’s treatment plan. 

These notes should be brief, focused, informative, and always in the past tense. As you write more notes, you’ll find a system that works for you. However, there are some regular mistakes providers make when writing SOAP notes. Here are four of the most common mistakes, and what you can do to avoid them. 

SimplePractice | SOAP Notes

S: Subjective 

In this section, describe your impressions of your client and support those impressions with observed facts. Impressions can include descriptions of your client’s interactions, feelings, and performance. This section may also include personal or medical issues that may have an impact on their performance or progress. Questions and comments from your client or their caregiver are particularly important to focus on, as these will be the observed facts to support
your impressions.

Example: Client was alert and attentive during our session. He had great motivation and willingness to participate. He had completed his homework and said, “I’m ready to work even harder today.” Client’s mother stated that he was excited to come to therapy today and that he had slept well the past few nights. Mom also stated that she had completed the at-home exercises with him every day this week, and she feels that this is building his confidence to work even harder. 

What to avoid: Do not include statements without including the supporting facts. In the example above, just stating “client was willing to participate” is an opinion until you provide facts to support that observation—that he completed his homework and his mom said he was excited for therapy.  

O: Objective

This section is where you document measurable outcomes about your client’s performance, including test scores, percentages for any goals worked on, and other quantitative information.

Example: Produced /ch/ correctly in 17/25 (68%) initial sentences without any cues.

What to avoid: Do not include general statements without supporting data. Something like “client responded well to non-verbal cues” would be an impression of the session and would be something to elaborate on in the subjective section. This section is all about quantitative information. You should not give excessive supporting data like describing every activity your client participated in. “Client produced /s/ correctly when provided visual cues, tactile cues, naming picture cards, and imitating words” has excessive supporting data, and should be focused on the quantitative aspects. 

A: Assessment 

Use this section to describe your analysis, interpretation of the session, and your client’s progress. Document strengths and areas of improvement, and compare performance to
previous sessions.

Example: Client’s progress on the /ch/ production objectives improved from 50% accuracy in the last session to 80% accuracy using visual cues. Without the use of visual cues, performance decreased significantly.

What to avoid: Do not rewrite what you stated in the Subjective or Objective sections. This is where you step back and look at the client’s progression or regression over time and assess what factors attribute to this change. Information like “when provided visual cutes, tactile cues, naming picture cards, and imitating words” would belong in this section. 

P: Plan

Create an outline of immediate next steps in your client’s treatment. State all activities, objectives, or reinforcements that you are changing. If your client doesn’t continue to make the same progress, then consider a new plan to get closer to their goal.

Example: Continue working on final consonants and remove all cueing during the /ch/ activity to see if successful production of the sound can be maintained. (If you’re not making any changes, you can write something like “continue current treatment activities.”)

What to avoid: Do not rewrite your entire treatment plan. Your client’s goal is already outlined in your treatment plan, and this section is where you should be specific about what your immediate next steps are to get your client closer to achieving that goal. Based on your assessment of the client’s progression, this is where you would adjust cues if needed.  

Make Documentation Easier

While taking notes sometimes feels like just one more thing you have to fit into your day, it’s a critical part of private practice. Accurate record-keeping is an important part of running a practice. Notes provide you with a framework for later evaluation and clinical consideration. The SOAP note template is an effective way to take notes quickly, so you can get all the relevant information down on paper without spending too much time away from your clients. 

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