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Database design for large numbers of attributes

P: n/a
I'm developing an application for medical use that will be used to
capture patient background and visit data. The application will have
approximately 50 forms, with an average of about 20 fields each-- so a
total of 1000+ fields. Almost always, the fields are unique to a
particular form--and it will be pretty unlikely that new forms and
fields will be added--although not out of the realm of possibility.
There will also be a search feature that will allow physicians to
query for certain forms based on as many attributes as they want to
use. Another relevant piece of info is that each form will have a
status, and that it will be necessary to aggregate all of the form
statuses for a patient to determine a patient status. The target
database is ORacle 9i (9.2.0.2). Total number of patients will
probably be around 10,000-- each will probably have an average of 50
forms (including multipe visit forms)-- so about 500,000 forms.
I'm trying to decide how to design the database:
SHould I
1. use a "survey" type design, where every attribute will be a row in
a response table?
Pros:
-most normalized
-most flexible and easy to make "schema" changes
Cons
-Large number of rows in response table
-cumbersome to work with
-reduced performance
2. create a separate table for each form w/ its unique attributes, and
a master table that has the common attributes and the primary keys
Pros
-Easier to work with
-updates and selects will have better performance
Cons
-Not normalized?
-The "ad-hoc" search queries and reports may be difficult to write and
maintain (possibly solvable w/ a large view?)
3. Store all the data for each form as XML in an XMLType column (non
schema based)
Pros:
-Easy to work with
-updates and selects will have good performance (since i'm always
updating or selecting an entire form)-- may actually have the best
performance of all 4 options for updating and retrieving form data
-normalized
Cons
-XML bloats storagce space requirements (but not really that big a
deal)
-Will make ad-hoc search and reporting queries perform(and probably
use lots of RAM) more slowly since XML will have to be parsed in order
for Xpath queries to run
4. USe oracle 9i's schema based XML feature
Pros
-Faster Xpath queries than option 3
COns
-If shcema changes, all generated objects have to be dropped and
re-created-- seems like a big pain
-If I was going to do tihs, why not just go with option 2.
I'm most tempted by options 2 and 3-- and would really prefer 3 if
there was a way to make sure that the ad-hoc queries would perform
decently.
Jul 19 '05 #1
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rj***@yahoo.com (John) wrote in message news:<63**************************@posting.google. com>...
I'm developing an application for medical use that will be used to
capture patient background and visit data. The application will have
approximately 50 forms, with an average of about 20 fields each-- so a
total of 1000+ fields. Almost always, the fields are unique to a
particular form--and it will be pretty unlikely that new forms and
fields will be added--although not out of the realm of possibility.
There will also be a search feature that will allow physicians to
query for certain forms based on as many attributes as they want to
use. Another relevant piece of info is that each form will have a
status, and that it will be necessary to aggregate all of the form
statuses for a patient to determine a patient status. The target
database is ORacle 9i (9.2.0.2). Total number of patients will
probably be around 10,000-- each will probably have an average of 50
forms (including multipe visit forms)-- so about 500,000 forms.
I'm trying to decide how to design the database:
SHould I
1. use a "survey" type design, where every attribute will be a row in
a response table?
Pros:
-most normalized
-most flexible and easy to make "schema" changes
Cons
-Large number of rows in response table
-cumbersome to work with
-reduced performance
2. create a separate table for each form w/ its unique attributes, and
a master table that has the common attributes and the primary keys
Pros
-Easier to work with
-updates and selects will have better performance
Cons
-Not normalized?
-The "ad-hoc" search queries and reports may be difficult to write and
maintain (possibly solvable w/ a large view?)
3. Store all the data for each form as XML in an XMLType column (non
schema based)
Pros:
-Easy to work with
-updates and selects will have good performance (since i'm always
updating or selecting an entire form)-- may actually have the best
performance of all 4 options for updating and retrieving form data
-normalized
Cons
-XML bloats storagce space requirements (but not really that big a
deal)
-Will make ad-hoc search and reporting queries perform(and probably
use lots of RAM) more slowly since XML will have to be parsed in order
for Xpath queries to run
4. USe oracle 9i's schema based XML feature
Pros
-Faster Xpath queries than option 3
COns
-If shcema changes, all generated objects have to be dropped and
re-created-- seems like a big pain
-If I was going to do tihs, why not just go with option 2.
I'm most tempted by options 2 and 3-- and would really prefer 3 if
there was a way to make sure that the ad-hoc queries would perform
decently.


John -

The right answer really depends on your specific needs. Here are some
things to think about....

Using the row based approach really hinders your ability to query
effectively both from a performance standpoint and complexity of the
query syntax. Using a column based approach really makes querying
easier...for instance, "select * from tab1 where col1 > 2 and col2 <=
col3+col4 or col5 is not null", etc... try doing this with a row based
approach.

In the row-based approach, you also lose type checking since you have
to store everything as a string and your model becomes less
self-describing.

With a column-based approach, you lose some of the flexibility you
mention of adding and removing attributes, but it doesn't sound like
you need it. You could separate volatile vs. fixed attributes in
separate tables if you find the need to support adding/removing
attributes. Then you wouldn't have to rebuild everything when things
change.

Nothing says you need to go with one approach only. Perhaps you can
separate columns that are likely to be queried from ones that will
not be queried and go with both a column and row-based approach. Or
put all string based attributes in a row-based table if that would
help.

If many of the attributes are simple yes/no answers, perhaps you could
look into encoding them as a bit string within one column. For
instance, Q1=Yes, Q2=No, Q3=Yes, could be represented as 101 in one
table column and could be queried using the BITAND function. If you
have 100 Yes/No answers, you've just compressed 100 columns into 1,
but you need to make sure the BITAND function will support your
queries and perform well.

I'm not that familiar with the XML functionality in Oracle yet, but I
suspect if you have aggregate query requirements, then relational will
perform better. But again, you may find a hybrid approach is best.
Perhaps some of your attributes are best stored as XML.

These aren't answers, but I hope it gives you something to think
about.

Good luck,
Dave
Jul 19 '05 #2

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