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SOAP Model for Community Health Assessment

Practitioners of clinical medicine have an heuristic known as "SOAP," which stands for "Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan."

Clinicians get subjective information from the patient, including the patient's presenting complaint, experience of his or her symptoms, and collect objective information such as the results of blood pressure measurements, x-rays and blood tests. After collecting the patient data, the clinician makes a diagnosis (assessment), and then decides on a treatment plan.

The S.O.A.P. Model for Clinical and Community Health Assessment

Clinical AssessmentCommunity Assessment

Presenting complaint, symptoms, pain, medical interview

Community members, advisory boards, CBOs, focus groups, key informant interviews, qualitative surveys


Physical examination, Heart rate, BP, Blood test, X-ray

Morbidity, mortality rates, behavioral data, social determinants, quantitative surveys


What is the diagnosis?

What are the priority health and safety issues?


What treatment will be most effective?

What interventions will be most effective?

The same heuristic can be applied to public health assessment. A clinician wouldn't think of prescribing a treatment without first collecting both subjective and objective information. As public health practitioners, we shouldn't consider planning or implementing programs or making policy decisions in the absence of relevant data.

important! icon In practice, public health decisions should probably not be based SOLELY on empirical (objective) data, but they should always be INFORMED by the data.

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