The estimated number of Canadians leaving the country seeking medical care is on the rise, according to a report released by the the Fraser Institute on Tuesday.

An estimated 52,000 Canadians — half of those from Ontario — left the country to receive non-emergency health care in 2014, according to a report titled Leaving Canada for Medical Care.

The new report notes an increase of more than 10,000 patients — or 26 per cent — from a year earlier are looking outside Canada for medical treatment.

The Fraser Institute gleaned numbers from a previous study, Waiting Your Turn, a study on wait times that surveyed practitioners in 12 medical specialties. Surveys were sent to the membership of the Canadian Medical Association and had a return rate of 19 per cent.

The Fraser Institute, a public policty think-tank based in B.C., has long been a proponent of more private options in Canadian health care. It has been studying wait times for 20 years.

"These figures are not insubstantial. They point to an increasing number of Canadians who feel their medical needs aren’t being met in Canada," said report co-author Bacchus Barua, an economist at the Fraser Institute's centre for health policy studies.

"We’ve always heard these anecdotal stories about people travelling abroad for these treatments, but we’ve never had a solid grasp or even an estimate what that number looks like on aggregate."

He said increased wait times at hospitals are one reason Canadians seek medical attention outside the county.

Overall, the average national wait time to see a doctor in an emergency room has steadily dropped over the past five years. For 2012-2013, it stood at 3.2 hours for the 90th-percentile wait time.

But still, more than 40 per cent of the 161 hospitals that submitted data to the Canadian Institute for Health Information for 2012-2013 fell below the suggested three-hour wait time to get assessed by an emergency room physician

"Faced with long waits for treatment, it should come as little surprise that so many Canadians ultimately choose to be medical tourists," he said.

The Fraser Institute polled separate medical specialists in plastic surgery, gynecology, ophthalmology, general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, cardiovascular surgery, urology, internal medicine, radiation oncology and medical oncology.

The report found patients seeking internal medicine procedures, such as colonoscopies, gastroscopies and angiographies, were most likely to seek treatment abroad, with more than 6,500 looking outside of Canada.

Barua said because the study is an estimate, he can’t determine where the patients are going outside Canada.

The estimated numbers of patients by province who received treatment outside of Canada in 2014 were:

  • British Columbia: 9,799
  • Alberta: 5,988
  • Saskatchewan: 1,050
  • Manitoba: 1,048
  • Ontario: 26,252
  • Quebec: 6,284
  • New Brunswick: 742
  • Nova Scotia: 975
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 327
  • Prince Edward Island: 48

The Fraser Institute says there are several possible reasons Canadians leave the country for medical care. Some patients may have been sent abroad because of a lack of available medical resources; some may have chosen to leave Canada in response to concerns about medical quality; while others might have left because of wait times.

In most cases, Barua says, patients are paying for the care, plane ticket and more in order to get treatment.

But in Windsor, Ont., which borders Detroit, patients are sometimes sent to Detroit for treatment and in some cases, the cost is covered by the province.

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