As many as 80,000 people die in the U.S. each year because doctors fail to diagnose a serious medical condition or diagnose it too late for treatment to be effective. Even more worrying for Georgia patients is that one in three of the 12 million Americans who are victims of diagnostic errors every year either die or suffer serious or permanent damage to their health. These were two of the findings made by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after studying more than 55,000 medical malpractice lawsuits.

The problem is also serious for the health care sector as it has cost doctors, hospitals and their insurers about $1.8 billion in last decade alone. Since the consequences for patients are severe, the damages awarded in medical malpractice cases are high. Almost three in four of the victims of a missed or delayed diagnosis suffer from cancer, heart disease or a potentially deadly infection of some kind.

The Johns Hopkins study, which was published by the medical journal Diagnosis on July 11, concludes that getting to the root of the problem will require a system-wide initiative. The focus of these efforts should be ambulatory settings like outpatient clinics and emergency rooms as this is where 71% of diagnostic mistakes are made. Doctors should also receive more training as errors in clinical judgment are the cause of a missed or delayed diagnosis 85% of the time.

Proving that a diagnostic error directly caused a patient’s injury, loss or damage is sometimes challenging in a medical malpractice case. To meet this legal burden, a personal injury attorney may cite research like this study or call on medical professionals to counter the arguments made by doctors or hospitals.