Guidelines for the effective use of entity-attribute-value modeling for biomedical databases

Valentin Dinu, Prakash Nadkarni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Purpose: To introduce the goals of EAV database modeling, to describe the situations where entity-attribute-value (EAV) modeling is a useful alternative to conventional relational methods of database modeling, and to describe the fine points of implementation in production systems. Methods: We analyze the following circumstances: (1) data are sparse and have a large number of applicable attributes, but only a small fraction will apply to a given entity; (2) numerous classes of data need to be represented, each class has a limited number of attributes, but the number of instances of each class is very small. We also consider situations calling for a mixed approach where both conventional and EAV design are used for appropriate data classes. Results and conclusions: In robust production systems, EAV-modeled databases trade a modest data sub-schema for a complex metadata sub-schema. The need to design the metadata effectively makes EAV design potentially more challenging than conventional design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-779
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical patient record systems
  • Clinical study data management systems
  • Databases
  • Entity-attribute-value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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