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Growing use of tech, AI transforming healthcare delivery

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Growing use of tech, AI transforming healthcare delivery

The growing use of technology and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in clinical medicine is improving the accessibility of quality healthcare significantly. Medical professionals are increasingly resorting to advanced technology in their practice, which is enhancing their effectiveness and productivity.

For instance, Nigerian telemedicine startups are revolutionising healthcare delivery by providing services like online appointments, virtual consultations with doctors and specialists, online pharmacy, mental health consultations, home healthcare services, and remote monitoring of patients with chronic health conditions, among others.

With telemedicine, you can have access to quality healthcare services from the comfort of your home, through your phone or computer.

One of the major applications of AI in healthcare is its use in medical imaging and diagnostics. AI Algorithms are trained on enormous amounts of medical data to analyse Computerized Tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRIs), X-rays, Ultrasound, and other medical visuals. With this training, AI can detect abnormalities, such as tumours, fractures, and infections.

A report published by Nature Medicine, states that the use of modern AI- Mia version 2.0, Kheiron Medical Technologies could significantly increase the early detection of breast cancer by up to 13%.

The researchers, who conducted the study discovered that using an AI tool called Mia can improve breast cancer screening by detecting cancerous tissues that human readers might miss. The study was conducted in a large breast cancer screening institution in Hungary. All cases followed the standard double-reading procedure (strictly without AI involvement) in which two radiologists reviewed every case.

In this study, the researchers used Mia as an additional reader for the mammograms of 25,065 women across four screening sites in Hungary from April 2021 to January 2023. After these mammograms were reviewed by two radiologists, they were analysed through Mia, which flagged some cases for additional review among those classified as ‘No recall’ by double reading. These cases, which Mia marked as Positive and Human readers marked as Negative were reviewed by a human arbitrator to possibly recall the women and detect more cancerous cases at an early stage.

The study was conducted over three phases, a single-centre pilot rollout, a wider multi-centre pilot rollout, and a full live roll-out. Altogether, the AI reader found 24 more cancers than human readers, indicating a 7% relative increase in cancer detection rate, thereby resulting in 70 more women recalled, which is a 0.28% relative increase in absolute recall rate.

Based on the data analysis, 83.3% of the cancerous cases spotted by Mia were invasive while 47.0% were small-sized. This evaluation suggests that using AI as an additional reader can improve the early detection of breast cancer with relevant prognostic features, and minimal to zero unnecessary recalls. It can also increase screening effectiveness.

In an interview with our correspondent, Dr. Somto Ojukwu, a Telemedicine physician, AI enthusiast, and founder of GreySiege, a healthcare investment and partnership firm, shared insights on the role of telemedicine in improving accessibility to healthcare services amid the brain drain in the Nigerian Health Sector.

“We have a shortage of healthcare professionals in Nigeria. People have limited access to healthcare services, for example, in the north, there are certain areas, where people don’t have access to any doctor/health service. Maybe a nurse or a midwife is there but they don’t have access to any doctor. Telemedicine can’t entirely make it better, however, it will reduce the burden, and it would also improve access to healthcare in remote areas,” he said.

To enhance the accessibility of quality healthcare in Nigeria amidst the economic hardship, Ojukwu urged the Nigerian government to allocate more funding towards AI applications in the Nigerian healthcare system, as well as collaborating with individual investors to access more funds for this cause.

“Artificial intelligence is doing a whole lot. When it comes to funding, AI applications in healthcare is not cheap. Government needs to budget for more funding for AI application in healthcare. The problem we are facing in this part of the world is that we don’t really care about healthcare.

Yes, we have a budget for healthcare but people are more interested in roads, houses that are being built, or jobs that are being created. My advice would be for the government to create a budget for this and work with individual investors towards this.

For example, at GreySeige, we try to connect innovative solutions, African investors, and capitalists because sometimes, such individuals are not happy with the healthcare they receive in their environments, so they reach out to us for partnership to bring innovative solutions to their communities even without government intervention. We just need dedicated individuals, who can help push healthcare,” he stated.

Growing use of tech, AI transforming healthcare delivery

Somto Ojukwu

He further stated the benefits of telemedicine to healthcare, adding that telemedicine is a huge platform for tackling the major challenge in the Nigerian health sector, which is the shortage of medical professionals.

“The benefits cannot be overemphasized because the doctor-to-patient ratio will always remain low. We will always have more patients than doctors, so we have to think of innovative approaches to make sure that this burden doesn’t linger for too long.

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Telemedicine is a huge platform that can really reduce the burden and the benefit of this is that we will be able to reach out to more patients, especially those in the remote regions and we will be able to deliver care to them.

There are some areas that doctors just do not want to go to. If there is a telecommunication device, to reach out to patients and deliver telemedicine to patients even without going to these areas, there will be a decrease in disease burden and decrease in the numbers of child/maternal Mortality,” he shared.

Based on his years of experience as a telemedicine physician, Ojukwu shared some of the challenges hindering the growth of telemedicine in Nigeria, which include location, language barrier, and power supply, among others.

“I have been a telemedicine physician for quite a while, and I have seen significant obstacles. The major obstacle first off is the location. There are certain locations in this part of the world, where service may be bad, and you won’t be able to reach out to patients. During a consultation, when you are trying to speak to them, the network goes bad.

“We also try to reach out to certain individuals but they do not have a telecommunication device (a phone) There is the issue of a language barrier as well, I think that is an obstacle in other sectors, not just healthcare. We have to also consider the power supply because using telemedicine requires you to speak through a laptop or a phone, and it requires electricity and power. If we can look into renewable energy, this would play a huge role when it comes to telemedicine.

“In the field of privacy and patient data protection, patients’ data should be protected. What efforts are we placing in protecting patients’ data over a telemedicine conversation? This is where service security companies have to come in as well. Patients’ privacy, location, remote access, power supply, if all these can be looked into, they will have a significant impact on telemedicine in Nigeria,” he said.

He expressed his optimism about the future outlook of telemedicine in Nigeria, stating that the ‘future is very bright’. He emphasized the significance of AI integration into the Nigerian healthcare system, noting that this would reduce budget allocation to healthcare, minimise disease burden and eradicate some diseases.

“The future is very bright. There are over 220 million people in Nigeria, and we don’t have as many doctors. AI will do what it does best, that is, to level the playing field. Even if it doesn’t level the playing field, it will, at least, significantly reduce the burden that is being placed on doctors as well as increase the chances of treatment availability for patients.

This is what I believe AI will be able to do. Healthcare professionals need the government to take a very good look and scrutinise the efficiency of the use of AI. If AI is integrated into Nigerian healthcare, it can also have a significant impact on the budget of healthcare itself. It can significantly reduce the amount being allotted to healthcare if well implemented. We will be able to reduce certain disease burdens and eradicate some diseases with good preventive measures, and AI in healthcare,” he remarked.

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