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Guidelines to consider for your “report of findings”

I’ve been working in healthcare for a long while now and over the decades, I’ve come to the realization that the one good habit that keeps me focused on the bigger picture, the simple thing that facilitates good case management and increases the chances of success is the written report of findings.

July 2, 2018  By Dawn Armstrong

This report is something that can and should be a part of everyday practice – I believe this single piece of paper in a patient’s file is the most useful document of all.

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In its most basic sense, the “report of findings” is simply what you say to a patient before you start treating them – and, it’s not optional.

Along with a discussion about the risks of care, “truly informed consent” requires that a practitioner share their findings with the patient, laying out a clear explanation of what they understand the problem to be and how the proposed treatment is expected to help.  


Delivered orally, your report of findings is a chance to let the patient know you understand their problem and have real solutions to offer. It is also a great opportunity to reinforce the patient’s confidence that they’ve come to the right place with their complaints.

However, people often fail to hear your message correctly or completely. Human cognition is served best by repetition and reinforcement of key points. When your report is presented concretely and succinctly on a piece of paper that the patient takes home, it can have a significant impact on many aspects of your practice.

So, here are some specific guidelines to consider and some very good reasons why you will want to make use of a written report of findings (ROF).

Handwritten or prepared as a printed document, you will want to use a standardized format with specific sections.The most useful presentation employs the SOAP method (Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan).

  • Brief summary of the history of their complaint: Based on the details that have been gathered from their intake form, any special intake forms you use and the notes taken over the course of your new patient interview.
  • Relevant physical examination findings, presented in layman’s terms. Some therapists find
  • diagrams can be helpful here.
  • Diagnosis/clinical impression: This is best expressed with the format: _____ of ________due to ________. (Ex. Inflammation of lateral elbow due to overuse of forearm muscles.)
  • Treatment plan: Be specific about the type of treatment to be employed as well as the frequency and expected duration of care. There should also be recommendations for self-care and, if applicable, referral to another health-care provider.

This form should also have a space for the patient’s name and the date of the initial visit.

The header generally has all of your contact information, but don’t overlook the option to include a statement of purpose or highlight your special interests or important associations – it is a chance to advertise your services to everyone your patient chooses to share the document with.


  • Give a copy to the patient at their next visit; keep a copy in their file. Take a minute or two to go over it with them and answer any questions they have.
  • Share* it with your front desk staff. It is important for them to be fully on board with the plan for the patient’s care.
  • Share* it with other health-care professionals who are part of the patient’s care team. The report can be used exactly as it is or serve as the basis for constructing a more detailed referral letter or an in-depth report for a third party.

*It is imperative that you have the patient’s express consent to share their information.*

The ROF forces you to come to clear, well-informed decisions about the patient’s case – with enough confidence to put it in writing.

The information contained fulfills an obligation of regulatory requirements for clinical record keeping purposes.

It is the perfect marketing tool – it demonstrates to your patient and everyone who reads it that you are paying attention and you know what you are doing.

It increases the public’s understanding of how their bodies work and what hands-on health-care professionals do. Our approach – how we think, and the special skills we possess – is unique. More people need to know about it!

It increases patients’ enthusiasm – when we make good communications a priority, patients are more engaged. When expectations are clear and they receive high quality care, they are loyal to both us as individuals, and to our profession. The profession as a whole becomes a way of life for them.

If you measure your professional success in terms of good outcomes and a constant stream of referrals from patients and other caregivers – because the community understands that you know what you’re doing – producing a written ROF for all of your new patients (and even your regular patients who present with a new complaint) is a winning strategy.

DR.  DAWN  ARMSTRONG, DC, is  a  graduate  of  CMCC  and  has  been  in  practice  for  nearly  30  years.  She  is  currently  focused  on  promoting  life-long  learning  and  professional  development  and  has  created  a  continuing  education  course  –  Clinical  Record  Keeping:  A  Hands-On  Approach.  Learn  more  at

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