What Is a Progress Note?

A progress note is an essential tool used in healthcare to document patient information, medical history, treatment plans, and progress throughout a patient’s care. It’s a crucial communication tool among healthcare professionals, ensuring continuity of care and facilitating collaboration.

Understanding the basics of progress notes

Documentation is vital to providing quality patient care. Progress notes, in particular, play a crucial role in capturing and communicating important information about a patient’s health status and treatment progress. These notes serve as a written record that captures the details of a patient’s journey, documenting any changes in their condition over time.

Definition of a progress note

A progress note is a written record that captures the details of a patient’s health status, treatment progress, and any changes in their condition over time. It’s a chronological documentation of the patient’s journey and an integral part of the medical record.

Progress notes are typically written by healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, or therapists directly involved in patient care. These notes provide a comprehensive overview of the patient’s medical history, treatment, and response to interventions.

Importance of progress notes in healthcare

Progress notes are crucial for several reasons. They provide a comprehensive overview of a patient’s medical history, treatment, and intervention response, helping healthcare professionals make informed decisions about their care.

By documenting the patient’s progress, these notes serve as a valuable reference for healthcare professionals, allowing them to track the effectiveness of treatments and interventions. This information can help guide future treatment plans and ensure the patient receives the most appropriate care.

In addition to aiding in decision-making, progress notes also facilitate effective communication and collaboration among healthcare team members. When multiple healthcare professionals are involved in a patient’s care, progress notes share important information, ensuring continuity of care.

Furthermore, progress notes can also play a crucial role in legal and insurance matters. In the event of a medical malpractice claim or an insurance dispute, progress notes serve as evidence of the care provided to the patient. They can help establish a timeline of events and provide a detailed account of the patient’s condition and treatment.

Progress notes are an essential component of the medical record, providing a comprehensive and detailed account of a patient’s healthcare journey. They serve as a valuable tool for healthcare professionals, aiding in decision-making and communication—ensuring high-quality patient care.

Components of a progress note

A progress note typically includes several key components that provide a comprehensive snapshot of a patient’s status and progress. These components include:

Patient information

At the forefront of every progress note is the patient’s identifying information, such as their:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Unique identification number

This helps healthcare professionals easily locate and retrieve the appropriate records.

For example, in a progress note for a patient named John Smith, his date of birth would be listed as June 15, 1985, and his unique identification number would be 123456789. This information ensures that John’s progress note is accurately associated with his medical history and treatment plan.

Medical history

The medical history section of a progress note details the patient’s:

  • Allergies
  • Family history
  • Past and present medical conditions
  • Previous treatments
  • Surgeries

This information provides valuable context for understanding the patient’s overall health status.

For instance, if John Smith has a medical history of asthma, this information would be documented in the progress note. It would also include any relevant details about the severity of his asthma, previous treatments he has undergone, and any known triggers or allergies that may exacerbate his condition.

Treatment plan and progress

The treatment plan section outlines the interventions the healthcare team prescribes and tracks the patient’s progress in achieving the intended outcomes. This may include:

  • Diagnostic tests
  • Medication changes
  • Surgical procedures
  • Therapy sessions

Continuing with the example of John Smith, his progress note would include details about the treatment plan for his asthma. This could involve a combination of medications, such as an inhaler and oral steroids, as well as regular check-ups with his primary care physician or pulmonologist. The progress note would document any adjustments made to the treatment plan, such as increasing the medication dosage or adding a new therapy option.

In addition to documenting the treatment plan, the progress note also tracks John’s progress in managing his asthma. This could include objective measurements, such as spirometry results, which assess his lung function, and subjective observations, such as his self-reported symptoms and overall quality of life. The progress note would reflect any improvements or setbacks in John’s condition, providing a comprehensive view of his progress over time.

Different types of progress notes

Progress notes come in various formats, each designed to capture specific types of information. The three most commonly used types of progress notes are:

SOAP notes

SOAP notes follow a structured format and acronym, standing for:

  • Subjective
  • Objective
  • Assessment
  • Plan

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  • Chief Complaint: “I’ve been experiencing severe back pain for the last three days.”
  • History of Present Illness: The patient is a 45-year-old male reporting lower back pain which started after lifting heavy boxes during a house move. Describes the pain as a constant, dull ache, rating it 7/10 on the pain scale. Notes occasional sharp pains when moving in certain ways.
  • Past Medical History: No prior history of back injuries. No chronic illnesses. No known drug allergies.
  • Social History: Non-smoker, occasional alcohol consumption, works as an accountant.


  • Physical Exam: Tenderness noted in the lower lumbar region. No visible swelling or bruising. Pain increases on palpation. Full range of motion is slightly limited due to pain. Neurological examination of the lower extremities is normal.
  • Vital Signs: Blood pressure 130/85, heart rate 78 bpm, temperature 98.6°F, respiratory rate 16 breaths per minute.


  • Primary Diagnosis: Acute lower back pain, likely musculoskeletal in origin, possibly related to strain from heavy lifting.
  • Differential Diagnosis: Herniated disc, kidney stones, or spinal stenosis could be considered but seem less likely given the history and examination.


  • Immediate Management: Prescribe NSAIDs for pain management. Advise application of ice and heat alternately on the affected area.
  • Follow-Up: Recommend rest from strenuous activities and gentle stretching exercises. Schedule a follow-up appointment in one week or sooner if symptoms worsen.
  • Referrals and Tests: Consider an X-ray or MRI if no improvement in pain after one week or if symptoms change.
  • Patient Education: Educate on proper lifting techniques and ergonomic adjustments in daily activities to prevent future back injuries.

This type of progress note ensures a systematic approach to documenting the patient’s subjective complaints, objective findings, healthcare professional’s assessment, and the resulting treatment plan.

Subjective information in SOAP notes includes the patient’s self-reported symptoms, such as pain level, discomfort, or emotional state. Objective findings encompass measurable data like vital signs, laboratory results, or physical examination findings. The assessment section of SOAP notes involves the healthcare professional’s interpretation and analysis of the subjective and objective data, leading to a diagnosis or evaluation of the patient’s progress. Finally, the plan outlines the recommended treatment or interventions based on the assessment.

Using SOAP notes ensures that healthcare professionals have a standardized approach to documenting patient progress, facilitating effective communication and continuity of care among different providers.

DAP notes

DAP notes, which stand for Data, Assessment, and Plan, focus on capturing essential data and assessing the patient’s progress. They rely less on subjective information and emphasize objective observations and measurable outcomes.

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  • Patient: John Doe, 30-year-old male
  • Date of Session: January 23, 2024
  • Diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder, moderate, without psychotic features


  • Subjective: John reports feeling “a bit better” than last week. He states that his mood has been low but he’s had some good days. He continues to struggle with sleep irregularities and low motivation, although he mentions that his appetite has improved. John expresses ongoing difficulties with concentration at work.
  • Objective: John appears slightly more engaged in the session today. His eye contact has improved, and he speaks in a more animated tone compared to previous sessions. However, he still exhibits signs of psychomotor retardation and looks fatigued.
  • Mental Status Exam: Dressed in clean clothes, appropriate for the weather. No overt signs of psychosis or immediate risk factors for self-harm or harm to others noted.


  • Treatment Plan Updates: Continue current medication regimen. Explore the possibility of adjusting dosages in collaboration with John’s psychiatrist, depending on his progress over the next few weeks.
  • Therapeutic Interventions: Utilized cognitive-behavioral techniques to challenge negative thought patterns and encouraged journaling to track mood fluctuations and identify triggers.
  • Goals: Work on developing healthier sleep habits and increasing daily activity levels. Encourage John to engage in at least one social activity before the next session.
  • Follow-Up: Schedule next session for one week from today. Encourage John to reach out if he experiences any worsening of symptoms or needs additional support.

Data in DAP notes includes objective information such as vital signs, laboratory results, or other quantifiable data relevant to the patient’s condition. The assessment section involves evaluating the collected data to determine the patient’s progress or response to treatment. This assessment may include comparing current data to previous measurements or established benchmarks. Finally, the plan outlines the next steps or interventions based on the assessment.

DAP notes are particularly useful in settings where objective data is crucial for monitoring patient progress, such as rehabilitation centers or research studies. By focusing on measurable outcomes, DAP notes provide a concise and standardized way to track a patient’s improvement over time.

Narrative notes

Narrative notes offer a more detailed and descriptive approach to documenting a patient’s progress. They provide a narrative account of the patient’s condition, significant events, responses to treatment, and any other relevant information. Narrative notes allow for greater flexibility and can capture nuanced details.

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Patient: Jane Smith
Date: January 23, 2024
Clinician: Dr. Emily Johnson
Service: Physical Therapy


Session Summary:

Jane Smith attended her third physical therapy session for post-operative rehabilitation following a left knee arthroscopy. She arrived on time and was in good spirits, reporting a slight improvement in pain levels since our last meeting. Jane mentioned that she has been diligent with her home exercises, which seems to be aiding her recovery.

During today’s session, we focused on range of motion exercises and began introducing gentle strengthening exercises for the knee. I observed a noticeable improvement in Jane’s ability to perform knee flexion and extension exercises compared to the previous session. However, she still exhibits mild discomfort with certain movements, particularly when performing lateral movements.

We also worked on functional mobility, practicing getting up from a seated position and walking. I noticed Jane’s gait has improved, but she continues to exhibit a mild limp, especially when fatigued. I provided verbal cues to encourage proper weight distribution and knee alignment during these activities.

We discussed the importance of continuing with her home exercise program and avoiding overexertion, which could lead to setbacks in her recovery. I provided Jane with a modified exercise plan to increase the intensity of her workouts gradually. Additionally, we scheduled an extra session next week to monitor her progress more closely and make any necessary adjustments to her treatment plan.

Jane tolerated today’s session well and left the clinic reporting a high level of satisfaction with her progress so far. She remains motivated and compliant with her treatment plan, which is positively impacting her recovery trajectory.


Plan for Next Session:

  • Continue to progress with range of motion and strengthening exercises.
  • Focus on improving gait and reducing limp during ambulation.
  • Monitor response to the new exercise regimen and adjust as needed.

Additional Notes:

  • Monitor for signs of overexertion or knee swelling.
  • Consider referring to a specialist if there is no continued improvement in lateral movement discomfort.

Unlike SOAP or DAP notes, narrative notes do not follow a specific format or structure. Instead, they provide a comprehensive narrative that tells the patient’s story, including subjective experiences, objective observations, and the healthcare professional’s interpretation. Narrative notes may include details about the patient’s background, social history, or psychosocial factors that may impact their progress.

While narrative notes offer more flexibility, they require good documentation skills to ensure clarity and conciseness. Healthcare professionals must balance providing enough detail to convey the patient’s progress and avoiding unnecessary information that may obscure the main points.

Narrative notes are commonly used in mental health settings, where a more holistic understanding of the patient’s experiences and progress is essential. They allow for a comprehensive and individualized approach to documenting patient care.

Writing an effective progress note

Writing a concise and informative progress note requires attention to detail and adherence to certain guidelines. Here are some essential tips to consider:

Essential tips for writing

  1. Use clear and concise language to ensure the note’s readability and understandability.
  2. Include relevant details and observations, avoiding personal opinions or biases.
  3. Document changes in the patient’s condition accurately and objectively.
  4. Ensure proper organization and sequencing of information.
  5. Use appropriate medical terminology and abbreviations.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Avoid vague or ambiguous language that may lead to misinterpretation.
  • Do not include non-essential or unrelated information.
  • Avoid copying and pasting previous notes without updating them.
  • Avoid using unapproved abbreviations or medical jargon that may confuse others.
  • Do not make assumptions or document unverified information.

It is important to recognize that progress notes also play a significant role in the legal and ethical aspects of healthcare. Two particular areas of concern are:

Confidentiality and privacy concerns

Progress notes contain sensitive patient information, and it is vital to maintain strict confidentiality and adhere to privacy regulations. To protect patient privacy, healthcare professionals must ensure the proper handling, storage, and sharing of progress notes.

Progress notes serve as legal documents and may be used as evidence in legal proceedings. Therefore, it is imperative to accurately document all relevant information, maintain objectivity, and ensure that the notes reflect the highest standard of care.

In conclusion, progress notes are integral to healthcare, providing a comprehensive record of a patient’s health status, treatment progress, and response to interventions. By understanding the basics of progress notes, recognizing their components, and employing effective writing techniques, healthcare professionals can ensure accurate and informative documentation. Additionally, being mindful of the legal and ethical implications surrounding progress notes helps to protect patient confidentiality and safeguard against potential legal issues.