The rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence is reshaping industries across the globe and healthcare is no exception. AI technologies are revolutionizing the way patient care is delivered, offering new possibilities for improved diagnostics, personalized treatments, and enhanced overall healthcare outcomes.
In this article, we will explore the transformative impact of AI in healthcare in Nigeria, the potential risks and challenges accompanying AI, and how robust the current legal framework is positioned to handle these challenges.
Benefits of Artificial Intelligence in the Health Care Industry
The deployment of AI in the healthcare sector in Nigeria is in an emerging and evolving state. [i]However, no doubt the application of AI in the health industry will be of immense contribution to the quality of healthcare service delivery in Nigeria.[ii] Some of the benefits of AI in health care are;
1. Enhanced Diagnostic Accuracy: One of the significant contributions of AI in healthcare is its ability to analyze vast amounts of patient data and provide accurate diagnostic insights. Machine learning algorithms, a subset of AI, can learn from patterns and trends in patient records, medical images, and other clinical data to assist healthcare professionals in making more precise and timely diagnoses. AI-powered diagnostic tools help detect diseases, such as cancer, at earlier stages, leading to better treatment outcomes and improved patient survival rates[iii].
2. Personalized Treatment Approaches: AI enables personalized healthcare by leveraging patient-specific data to develop tailored treatment plans. By analyzing genetic information, medical history, and lifestyle factors, AI algorithms can identify patterns and correlations that help predict disease risks and response to treatments. This empowers healthcare providers to deliver personalized interventions and therapies, optimizing patient outcomes and reducing the occurrence of adverse events.
3. Efficient Healthcare Operations: AI enables personalized healthcare by leveraging patient-specific data to develop tailored treatment plans. By analyzing genetic information, medical history, and lifestyle factors, AI algorithms can identify patterns and correlations that help predict disease risks and response to treatments. This empowers healthcare providers to deliver personalized interventions and therapies, optimizing patient outcomes and reducing the occurrence of adverse events.
4. Early Disease Detection and Prevention: AI algorithms can continuously monitor patient data and detect subtle changes that may indicate the early onset of diseases or potential health risks. This proactive approach to healthcare enables early intervention, preventive measures, and lifestyle modifications to mitigate the progression of chronic conditions. By harnessing AI for remote patient monitoring and wearable devices, healthcare providers can remotely track vital signs and intervene promptly when necessary, leading to better disease management and improved patient well-being.
5. Drug Discovery and Clinical Research: AI is accelerating the process of drug discovery and development, revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry. Drug development is a tedious venture that may take years and thousands of failed attempts. It can cost medical researchers billions of dollars in the process. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of biomedical research data, identify potential drug candidates, and predict their efficacy and safety profiles. This expedites the identification of new therapies and enables researchers to make data-driven decisions in clinical trials, optimizing trial design and patient selection. AI also facilitates the analysis of real-world data to uncover insights into treatment outcomes and the effectiveness of interventions.
Legal Implications of Artificial Intelligence In Healthcare Industry In Nigeria
The use of AI in healthcare raises a lot of ethical, moral, and social concerns. The potential for benefit from this AI is substantial, but it comes with its own challenges: medical, certainly, but also legal. Some of the legal challenges are briefly discussed below
1. Regulation: The first issue is how to ascertain or determine that AI algorithms are high quality is, they do what they say, and they do it well and safely. This is because the data used for A1 algorithms are from different sources: electronic health records, medical literature, clinical trials, pharmacy records, and even information entered by patients into their smartphones. Based on this data, the AI algorithm can make predictions and personalized treatment but cannot explain why or how they reach the conclusion they do. [iv]
It behooves the government to set up an efficient system for pre-market scrutiny focused on the quality of data used, the development techniques, and the validation procedure. However, performing this collaborative governance role requires information and many algorithm developers are unwilling to share this information with other entities. If efficient regulation is achieved, collaboration is not negotiable.
2. Accountability for decisions: One of the most fundamental legal issues is who should be culpable if something goes wrong. This is a major question that is at the heart of every legal conversation. Should there be individual or joint liability between clinicians, healthcare organizations, and AI developers? While AI is rapidly developing, it is still susceptible to error. Should a clinician be held responsible for improper use of the AI device which causes harm to a patient or the developer? Should a developer be held responsible for harm being caused by incorrect content fed into the AI device if harm is caused to a patient? These are questions that the government, legal practitioners, and policymakers in Nigeria need to resolve. [v]
3. Bias: This is where AI tools inappropriately produce different outcomes for historically disadvantaged groups. For example, there is a possibility that an AI algorithm trained with data for white people without considering diversity may discriminate against people based on their gender or race. The issue to resolve is whether AI will provide more fair and objective decisions than humans or whether will AI even amplify human prejudices. This begs the question of whether existing anti-discrimination and human rights laws can attend to this problem of Algorithm bias.[vi]
4. Data privacy regulations: The Nigerian government has a duty to protect its citizens and this has led to the establishment of the Nigeria Data Protection Act. However, the development of AI and machine learning algorithms relies on the use of huge datasets. There is a need to strike a balance between maintaining patient confidentiality and also having access to these data in order for the AI tools to actively function This raises concerns whether existing data privacy laws in Nigeria are sufficient to protect a patient.[vii]
5. Intellectual Property Rights: Intellectual Property protection creates another set of challenges for the development of AI. Developing AI takes a lot of time, effort, and expertise. Normally, it is expected that intellectual property laws should provide some measure of protection for the information goods created by such expenditures so that firms are willing to invest the necessary funds for their development without fear that resulting inventions will be appropriated by others. However, concerns about the sufficiency of an existing legal framework for the protection of intellectual property in Nigeria exist.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN NIGERIA
In Nigeria, the existing legal framework to address some of these legal issues is identified above as follows:
1. The National Health Act, 2004: The NHA espouses some important provisions which prescribe the protection and lawful use of patient’s medical and health records. Section 26(1) of the NHA provides for the confidentiality required of Medical Practitioners and data handlers when dealing with the medical information of patients. Pursuant to Section 25 of the NHA, the patient’s medical and health records must be held in a manner that makes them readily available to them. This captures the twin major principles in data privacy; protection, and availability.
Section 27 of the NHA also captures circumstances where a Patient’s data records can be made available to a third-party healthcare provider or professional, but only for a legitimate purpose. Again, Section 29 of the NHA requires a health facility to put measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to the repository of patients’ data. This section of the NHA also criminalizes unauthorized access to patient’s medical records. However, pursuant to Section 28 (2)of the NHA, the authorization of the patient may be dispensed with, where the data is used for scientific or research purposes or if the data (medical records) sought to be shared has been de-identified (de-identified patient data is patient information that has had personally identifiable information (PII; e.g. a person’s name, email address, or social security number), including protected health information such as medical history, test results, and insurance information) removed).[viii]
2. The Nigerian Data Protection Act, 2023: In Nigeria, the Nigeria Data Protection Act (NDPA) serves as a cornerstone for addressing data privacy and protection concerns. The NDPA delineates principles and guidelines for lawful data collection, processing, and storage. Organizations are tasked with implementing stringent data protection measures and obtaining explicit consent from individuals whose data is processed.[ix]
AI holds tremendous potential to revolutionize healthcare and improve patient outcomes in Nigeria. From enhancing diagnostic accuracy to enabling personalized treatment strategies and augmenting clinical decision-making, AI is transforming the field of medicine. However, to fully realize the benefits, it is essential to address the challenges surrounding privacy, data security, and algorithm transparency. The current laws that regulate AI in Nigeria need revision. There is an abrupt need for the government and all relevant stakeholders to collaborate in the process of prescribing guidelines, and enacting laws for the regulation of AI in the Nigeria health sector.[xii] An understudy of other countries in Africa and globally who have started deploying AI to their healthcare service delivery will also prove useful.
[i] Nigeria is currently one of the Nations on the third-world list of developing countries in the technological field
[ii] MyProject “Use of Artificial Intelligence for Health Care in Nigeria”, < https://www.myproject.ng/public-health/use-of-artificial-intelligence-for-health-care-in-nigeria/ndex.html> , accessed on September 15, 2023
[iii] BPM Technologies, “Artificial Intelligence Revolutionizing Healthcare: How AI is Transforming Patient Care”, accessed on September 15, 2023.
[iv]University of Michigan Law School, Artificial Intelligence in the Health Care: Applications and Legal Implications, <https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2932&context=articles>, accessed on Sep 17, 2023
[v] Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, “Artificial Intelligence in Health Care”, <https://www.aomrc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Artificial_intelligence_in_healthcare_0119.pdf> , accessed on Sep 17, 2023.
[viii] “Entrenching Digitization for Improved Healthcare in Nigeria: The Legal and Commercial Imperatives”, <https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/healthcare/1341364/entrenching-digitization-for-improved-healthcare-in-nigeria-the-legal-and-commercial-imperatives>, accessed on September 17, 2023.
[x] There are other laws that highlight various aspects of data protection in healthcare, some of which include the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2015, which includes healthcare as critical national infrastructure and protects against unlawful intrusion, the Child Rights Act 2003, Freedom of Information Act 2011 as well as the National Health Insurance Scheme Act 2022 which contain salient provisions on the rights of patients to guard against the unlawful use of their medical information. Much of these provisions have been formulated in what is known as the Patient’s Bill of Rights, a quasi-regulation issued by the Consumer Protection Council.
[xi] For example, there is a lack of robust legislation on the protection of IP rights in the development of AI for healthcare
[xii] Christopher Y.A., “ Artificial Intelligence in Health Care: The National Health Act”, https://barristerng.com/artificial-intelligence-in-health-care-the-national-health-act-barr-christopher-yange-atsen/>, accessed on September 17, 2023
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