Data On Bad Docs Off-Limits To Public

Doctors perform surgery
Las Vegas waitress Michelle Medina believed the odds were on her side when a surgeon said he could end her back pain.

She remembers what her doctor told her: "Michelle, I can take care of this. I can fix this for you. All you have to do is trust me."

The same doctor, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen, told Los Angeles metalworker Juan Garcia that back surgery might help him, too.

"It was something we still cannot get over," says his daughter Vicky Gonzales. "We still can't believe that my dad's gone."

Garcia died eight days after his operation. Medina's back pain is worse than ever:

"Sometimes I'm hurting so bad I lay in bed and cry because of the pain," she says.

Both families are suing orthopedic surgeon Francis D'Ambrosio, who was stunned to learn as he operated on Medina in Las Vegas that he was already building his reputation as the most sued surgeon in Nevada. And when he came home to California he had a record of 39 lawsuits and 21 settlements:

"He is a bad seed and he's fallen through the cracks," says Garcia family attorney Robert Mosier.

Mosier says D'Ambrosio's record should have been known beforehand and could have been.

"If a doctor has a claim against him, or lawsuit or a settlement, that is supposed to be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank," says Mosier.

The NPDB in Virginia keeps files on more than 215,000 doctors and dentists who've been disciplined or made malpractice payments. The problem is, the taxpayer-funded data bank is closed to the public. But there's a campaign to change that.

"The information that is locked in the NPDB is not just complaints against doctors, it's final actions after investigations have been done," says Dr. Sydney Wolfe, of Public Citizen. "We think the public has a right to this."

The American Medical Association doesn't agree, arguing that Internet sites run by many state medical boards - boards that license and discipline doctors - already give consumers all they need to know:

"We're not saying we don't want people to get the information," says Dr. Richard Corlin, of the AMA. "We want them to get it from the the best, most reliable source and that's the state licensing board."

But Nevada's medical board didn't post D'Ambrosio's record until June of this year after its investigation was done. More than a year after he'd surrendered his Nevada license and set up shop in California and 20 days after Juan Garcia died in a Los Angeles area hospital.

"As we speak today he is still practicing, still doing surgeries, still seeing patients and still making money," says Mosier.

Congressional approval is required to open the national data bank. Meantime, Dr. D'Ambrosio and his attorneys have ignored repeated interview requests. And in the short time he's been back in Los Angeles, at least four new lawsuits have been filed against him.