• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
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The role of AI in revolutionizing healthcare amidst doctor shortages in Nigeria

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a transformative force in a significant step towards improving healthcare in Nigeria.

As the nation faces challenges in healthcare, notably a shortage of doctors due to many leaving for better opportunities abroad, AI offers a potential solution. Experts are at the forefront, advocating for AI’s role in addressing these healthcare gaps.

Revolutionising Patient Care through AI
Mayowa Oyatogun, a leading expert in Conversation AI and founder of Kromium Health, highlights AI’s potential to revolutionise patient care, saying “AI can transform diagnostics, and treatment plans, and address the shortage of healthcare professionals”.

AI’s primary benefit lies in its rapid and accurate analysis of vast medical data. Akintobi Olanrewaju, Co-Founder of Wella Health, explains, “Healthcare providers can leverage AI to process complex datasets, identify patterns, and gain insights impossible for humans to discern swiftly.”

Telemedicine and Accessibility Solutions
In Nigeria’s diverse landscape, AI-powered telemedicine offers crucial support, especially in remote areas with limited healthcare access. Ikechukwu Anoke, founder of Zuri Health, emphasises, “Telemedicine platforms powered by AI can connect patients with healthcare professionals, offering timely consultations and reducing strain on overwhelmed hospitals.”

Damilola Ojo, VP of Products at Kromium Health, highlights the potential of telemedicine in overcoming the healthcare disparity prevalent in rural areas.

By enabling remote connections between patients and healthcare professionals, AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants play a pivotal role. They offer basic medical guidance, symptom triage, and even continuous monitoring of patients’ conditions, thereby reduces the need for physical consultations. This approach significantly eases the strain on healthcare systems while ensuring timely and accessible care for patients.

Challenges and Recommendations

While the potential benefits of AI in healthcare are vast, Mayowa Oyatogun of Kromium Health further acknowledges that challenges exist. “Data security, ethical considerations, and the need for robust regulatory frameworks are crucial aspects that must be addressed,” Mr Oyatogun points out.

To navigate these challenges, Maximilian Mancini, Co-CEO of Kenya based Ilara Health recommends collaboration between government bodies, tech companies, and healthcare institutions. “A coordinated effort is required to establish comprehensive policies, ensure data privacy, and build a supportive ecosystem for the integration of AI in healthcare,” Mr Mancini suggests.

Although, AI systems can be expensive to train, test and deploy. Datasets are also expensive to collect, and computing power and storage space is expensive. Most healthcare organizations also lack the data infrastructure necessary to collect the data needed to optimally train algorithms i.e. to test them for bias and adjust the model, and continually monitor and evaluate field outcomes.

The unavailability of digital infrastructure required to build AI systems is a further constraint. Cloud-based computing infrastructure is mostly concentrated in servers outside Nigeria. Thus, leading many start-ups have also incorporated themselves outside Nigeria.

In Nigeria, there are no enacted laws guiding who takes responsibility for adverse outcomes that might result from the usage of AI in healthcare which is highly likely considering how and where AI might be applied in healthcare.

The most probable resolutions might involve the application of existing laws, but some areas and scenarios are not anticipated or covered by the existing laws. This will have legal implications for users and patients.

The Road Ahead

As Nigeria stands at the crossroads of healthcare transformation, Damilola Ojo of Kromium Health envisions a future where AI becomes an integral part of medical practice. Thus, the need for integrating AI into healthcare systems which will requires an understanding of AI in national curricula for medical and public health students, both academic and practical.

She further added that with strategic investments, education, and collaborative initiatives, Nigeria can harness the full potential of AI to create a healthcare system that is not only efficient but also accessible to all.

In conclusion, as Nigeria charts its course toward a tech-driven healthcare future, the insights and recommendations provided by the above experts especially towards making appropriate investments in data infrastructure, such as interoperability, unified EMR and data stewardship will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in steering the nation toward a healthier, more technologically advanced tomorrow.