What is an MDR and how is it used?

By Paul Robinson |

A metadata repository (MDR), simply put, is a database created to store metadata. Metadata is data with an additional layer (or layers) of information associated with the data. This gives it more meaning, especially when analyzing and reporting, which in turn provides more value to a business.

Read on to find out more about what they are and how they are used.


There can be dozens to hundreds of pieces of information related to, and stored about, each piece of data, and a well-designed repository not only stores them securely but also allows them to be manipulated and reported by a user with ease.


An example

An example may be patient records. Data stored in the database may have one table called ‘Patient’ with many columns each containing data that describes a different attribute to each patient.  Variance is obvious, for example, the relationship between ‘Patient last name’ and ‘Patient first name’ and the relationship of both to the table. What is the field length for each? Are they the same, and are both fields mandatory? What about if they are not populated completely and how is capitalization handled? How are data entry failures, automation, and maintenance managed?

At another level, there may be security requirements for who can access the data - especially in the confidential nature of patient records. As you can see, the possibilities for variance are endless.


How do they help users?

A well defined, implemented and maintained Metadata repository turns data into knowledge. It enables all of the structure of the organization’s data to be contained in one integrated place and is a platform for making calculated business decisions. 

Using one form of data model allows the business to define common processes and products that bring the business and technology closer to help organizations make reliable roadmaps with definite goals for success. 


What are the Challenges?

The main challenge with an MDR is that each application has unique requirements and therefore are usually unique to each company.  As there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution this has led to many companies developing their own proprietary systems which have the associated challenges.

These include costly in-house definition and development, problematic maintenance and upgrades, reliance on a specific subject matter team, inconsistent and often underfunded training and implementation, unsophisticated security, and sometimes the system does not include the polished user interface that many users now demand.

Another challenge is that ideally, the purpose of the registry is to define the data strategy and for it to be maintained across the organization as a whole within one solution. Often, it is found that there are several data models and multiple data management systems as historically it was deemed there were different requirements that could not be accommodated in one solution.


What solutions are available?

The good news is that there are an ever-increasing amount of packaged MDR software solutions available that have been developed by a growing user base. These have the benefits of having wide functionality, often being cloud-based, are intuitive to use, and have a consumer-style user interface.   

Some examples of these include:

[Note - the above are provided for information only]

What does the future look like?

Much is being done to develop common standards within the industry with the Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDIS) being at the forefront of this charge. Standardised data will enable clinical research to advance and be more usable and effective which is mission-critical for global health. 

For example, Microsoft has teamed up with CDISC to help define the future of standards and technology by facilitating workshops on planning the next generation of the CDIS library for the clinical research community. This is one example of the priority many technology partners, businesses, and academics are placing on this topic.

However, the pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated and progress is often slow - but at least there is an increasing number of solutions available now which offer more functionality than ever before to help businesses become more successful in this area.

Paul Robinson

Written by Paul Robinson


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