Gillian SteelFisher

Gillian SteelFisher

Senior Research Scientist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Deputy Director, Harvard Opinion Research Program

Dissertation Title: "From the Iraq War to Quality of Care: Public Response to Health Policy and Politics"The public’s perspective is a critical component of effective health policy. It provides the insights necessary to develop policies that are politically feasible as well as those that will truly benefit the public’s health. To that end, this dissertation examines the perspective of relevant publics for two different types of policies: those related to Army personnel and those related to public dissemination of comparative quality information about health care plans and providers.

Paper 1 examines problems pertaining to the health and well-being of Army spouses during extensions of deployment, using 2004 survey data. Controlling for demographic and deployment characteristics, we found that spouses who experienced extensions fared worse on an array of measures, including mental well-being (e.g., feelings of depression) and household strains (e.g., problems with household and car maintenance). This suggests that extensions may exacerbate problems related to deployment.

Paper 2 uses national opinion surveys to evaluate proposed disparities in access to and use of comparative quality information. We found that racial/ethnic minorities, those with lower incomes, and those who lack health insurance are less likely to see comparative quality information. Those in rural communities, those with lower incomes and those without insurance are less likely to use the information. Unexpectedly, we also found that among those who have seen comparative quality information, racial/ethnic minorities, those with low income, and those without insurance are more likely to use comparative quality information about hospitals or doctors than their counterparts.

Paper 3 evaluates barriers to seeking and using comparative quality information in context by examining the experiences of women choosing an obstetrician in Massachusetts. Qualitative interviews revealed evidence of barriers identified in the literature: those related to the materials (accessibility); to features of health care decision-making (low salience and immediacy of medical concerns); and to consumer values (mistrust of institutional experts, disconnect with concept of quality, and competing priorities). We also identified a barrier not previously recognized: patients believe they can judge clinical quality without formal information. Patients who were confident in their information seeking and use skills were able to overcome many of these barriers.


Graduation Year


Dissertation Committee Member