Design considerations, architecture, and use of the Mini-Sentinel distributed data system


J. S. Brown, Department of Population Medicine, 133 Brookline Ave., 6th floor, Boston, MA 02215, USA. E-mail:



We describe the design, implementation, and use of a large, multiorganizational distributed database developed to support the Mini-Sentinel Pilot Program of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As envisioned by the US FDA, this implementation will inform and facilitate the development of an active surveillance system for monitoring the safety of medical products (drugs, biologics, and devices) in the USA.


A common data model was designed to address the priorities of the Mini-Sentinel Pilot and to leverage the experience and data of participating organizations and data partners. A review of existing common data models informed the process. Each participating organization designed a process to extract, transform, and load its source data, applying the common data model to create the Mini-Sentinel Distributed Database. Transformed data were characterized and evaluated using a series of programs developed centrally and executed locally by participating organizations. A secure communications portal was designed to facilitate queries of the Mini-Sentinel Distributed Database and transfer of confidential data, analytic tools were developed to facilitate rapid response to common questions, and distributed querying software was implemented to facilitate rapid querying of summary data.


As of July 2011, information on 99 260 976 health plan members was included in the Mini-Sentinel Distributed Database. The database includes 316 009 067 person-years of observation time, with members contributing, on average, 27.0 months of observation time. All data partners have successfully executed distributed code and returned findings to the Mini-Sentinel Operations Center.


This work demonstrates the feasibility of building a large, multiorganizational distributed data system in which organizations retain possession of their data that are used in an active surveillance system. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.