How to Survive an Audit

Audits are one of the scariest words when working in the field. But what if I told you they don’t have to be? Here are some of the ways that I’ve found helpful when audit season rolls around.

Stay Prepared

You know the saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail?” Well guess what? They’re right. When working in the social work field, we KNOW that there are going to be audits. It’s not a surprise. The best, and most effective, way to survive and audit is to be prepared. This means staying on top of that dreaded documentation.

Documentation sucks. I’ve never met a social worker who was like “oh yeah, I totally got into the field so I can spend hours writing assessments and progress notes!” We got into the field to help people. While our clients have to come first, we cannot use them as excuses to avoid completing paperwork. Set yourself deadlines and stick with them! Still struggling? Here’s another article I wrote about getting organized and here is one about my favorite planners!

Another thing you can do is look at past audits and see what areas were listed for improvement and start working on those areas right away! Oftentimes when we get a review, we don’t make the changes right away and it’s easy to forget or to revert back to the things we get the negative mark on. Try to make sure that you’re making an effort to continuously work on the negative remarks you received in the past.

Do your own audits of your charts or ask a co-worker to review some of them in exchange for reviewing theirs. Peer reviews can be so helpful! Sometimes our co-workers can find things that are missing that we didn’t notice. Other times we can get ideas from things that they are doing in their documentation that will make our lives easier. Constantly reviewing our files before the audit will help us know where we’re at when the audit finally does come.


In my experience, when audit time rolls around everyone starts freaking out. Co-workers are running around frantically trying to catch up on reports, everyone works longer hours, and people are just generally more stressed out.

Take a deep breath.

Now make a list of everything you need to do- whether it’s 3 session notes or 100. Write them down so you can stay organized and cross off things as they get done.

Once you have your list of eveything that you’re missing, prioritize! Take a step back and decide what’s most important. Maybe it’s the monthly reviews? Maybe it’s progress notes? Only you know what is most important for your agency. Decide what are the top priorities and make sure you start there.

Another thing to think about is that sometimes auditors let you choose which files are going to be reviewed during their visit. Make sure you know which charts are in the best shape in the event that they allow you to pick. This will make it easier for you and the auditor if you can easily pull a chart that you know will get great reviews!

Do What You Can

Just like the title says, you can only do so much. DO NOT kill yourself over an audit. If you’ve been providing services to clients and keeping up (mostly) with your documentation, you’ll be fine. No chart is going to be 100% perfect and having a few things out of compliance won’t kill you.

Don’t allow your boss or co-workers to stress you out to the point that you feel like you have to commit every ounce of time to work- you don’t.

Another thing to think about is quality ove quantity. Sometimes, we just have to get the progress note in the file. Remember, if there’s not documentation for it, it didn’t happen in the eyes of the auditor. That may mean sacrificing some quality in order to get all the notes in the file. It’s usually better to have a progress note with not as much detail than to have no not at all. If there’s something in the file, the auditor can give feedback on how to improve it. If there’s nothing in there, the auditor has nothing to go by.

Take Care of Yourself

This is probably the most important part of preparing for an audit. Audits are usually high stress situations and, even if you are caught up on documentation, they can still cause some anxiety. You should always be practicing self-care as a social worker but you definitely want to make sure you are doing this during audit time. Remember, we still have to take care of our clients and other responsibilities during this time and you can’t take care of others if you have nothing left to give.

Don’t stay at work for 80 hours a week. Don’t allow yourself to become drained or burned out from trying to complete everything in a day. Set realistic goals for yourself. If you need help, ask your supervisor. Engage in self-care! It is important! For more information on the importance of self-care, check out this article.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Long nights at work catching up on paperwork and stress can cause your sleep patterns to get all out of wack but it’s important that we get good quality sleep. Without it, we won’t be able to function at full capacity which, in turn, makes completing all of our responsibilities even harder.

Eat healthy foods on a regular basis. There have been so many times when I was “too busy” at work to stop and eat lunch. By the time I got home I was exhausted and grumpy on top of it because I was hungry! Make sure you stop to eat. If you don’t have a lot of time, that’s fine. Grab something easy to eat on the go or while typing up notes. Granola bars, apples, and microwavable meals were my best friends during audit time.

You Can Do It!

DON’T PANIC! Audits seem scarier than they really are. Sure, someone is coming to scrutinize your work and look for things that are missing but that’s their job.

If you do what you can, and take care of yourself in the process, everything will be fine. Don’t worry if you get a few negative remarks, that’s normal! Like I said earlier, no one is going to have every chart in compliance 100% of the time. Take their remarks and make changes.

Try to stay up-to-date on your documentation as much as possible. Self-impose deadlines for yourself if the company doesn’t have any guidelines. Make sure you’re meeting your deadline goals. If you’re not, figure out why and try a new system. Maybe you need to give yourself more time for paperwork during your day instead of spending an hour talking to your co-worker or maybe you need to change up the way you write your notes.

Lastly, pat yourself on the back. You did it! You made it through the audit!



What are your experiences like with audits? Do you have any tips or tricks for how to survive an audit? I’d love to hear your thoughts, drop a comment below!

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