SOAP Notes in the Spotlight: Balancing Detail with Time Management

Creating and maintaining SOAP notes is a fundamental clinical practice component for healthcare providers, including solo practitioners

Creating and maintaining SOAP notes is a fundamental clinical practice component for healthcare providers, including solo practitioners. SOAP—an acronym for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan—is a method of documentation employed by healthcare providers to write notes in a patient’s chart, including the narrative of the patient encounter.

Initial SOAP Note Duration

The time taken to fill out an initial SOAP note can vary widely depending on multiple factors, including the complexity of the patient’s condition, the thoroughness of the examination, and the provider’s proficiency with the process. On average, completing a well-detailed initial SOAP note might take 15 to 30 minutes. This includes gathering subjective data from the patient, such as their history and current symptoms; documenting objective findings like vital signs and examination results; assessing the patient’s condition; and formulating a treatment plan.

The initial SOAP note can take longer for new patients or those with complex presentations to ensure accuracy and comprehensiveness. Additionally, the practitioner’s expertise with the electronic health record (EHR) system can influence the duration; those less familiar with the software may need additional time to navigate and enter information.

Maintaining SOAP Notes in Follow-up Sessions

The maintenance of SOAP notes in subsequent sessions is generally less time-consuming than the initial write-up. Follow-up SOAP notes typically take about 5 to 10 minutes per patient visit. These notes are quicker to complete because they build upon the established initial note, requiring updates based on the latest subjective reports from the patient, objective clinical findings, revised assessments, and altered care plans based on the patient’s progress or any new developments.

Difficulty and Complexity

The difficulty of completing SOAP notes accurately and efficiently should not be understated. It requires a solid grasp of medical terminology, attention to detail, critical thinking, and the ability to synthesize information swiftly. This process can be particularly challenging for solo practitioners, who often manage their administrative tasks. They must balance the time spent on documentation with the direct care of patients and other responsibilities inherent in running a practice.

Importance of Efficiency

For a solo practitioner, the significance of an expedited SOAP note process can be quite substantial. Time saved on paperwork translates directly into more time for patient care, which can improve patient satisfaction and outcomes. It also allows for better time management, potentially increasing the number of patients seen in a day, which can positively impact the practice’s profitability.

Moreover, efficient documentation helps minimize the risk of burnout, a common issue among solo practitioners due to the high workload and administrative burden. Reducing the time and effort required for SOAP notes can contribute to a better work-life balance, reducing stress and allowing for more personal time or professional development opportunities.

Technological Integration and Speed

Advancements in EHR technology have been pivotal in streamlining the SOAP note process. Features such as templates, voice-to-text functionality, and artificial intelligence can significantly reduce the time to complete notes. For example, templates can be customized for different visits, standardizing the process and saving time. Voice-to-text can expedite the subjective and objective components, while AI can assist with diagnostic codes and treatment plans.


In summary, initial SOAP note documentation is a time-intensive process that becomes quicker with subsequent visits. The complexity and skill involved in creating accurate and detailed SOAP notes make it a challenging task for solo practitioners, for whom time is a particularly precious resource. Improvements in the speed and efficiency of this process can have wide-reaching benefits, enhancing patient care, increasing productivity, and improving the practitioner’s quality of life. As healthcare advances, adopting technological aids to assist in documentation will be increasingly crucial for solo practitioners aiming to optimize their practice.

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