More Canadians travelled abroad to seek non-emergency medical care in 2014 than the previous year, a new study has found.

A report by the Fraser Institute released Tuesday estimates that 52,513 Canadians sought non-emergency medical treatment last year.  The number increased by 26 per cent compared to 2013.

Physicians in British Columbia reported the highest proportion of patients receiving treatment abroad, while Ontario had the largest number of patients seeking medical treatment elsewhere. 

The Fraser report analyzed data from the annual “Waiting Your Turn” report, which is derived from a national survey of physicians across Canada in 12 major medical specialties.

Bacchus Barua, a senior economist with the Fraser Institute, said the report didn’t explain why patients left for treatment, but offered some insight into the reasons Canadians might do so.

“I think one quite plausible explanation might have to do with the long wait times that Canadians face in the country,” Barua told Canada AM Tuesday, adding that Canadians faced an average wait of 18.2 weeks after getting a referral from their general practitioner last year.

“So while that’s not something we can draw a clear parallel between, it’s something that we can’t turn our heads away from.”

The 2014 survey showed that physicians specializing in procedures such as colonoscopies, gastroscopies and angiographies reported the highest number of patients leaving Canada for treatment.

Neurosurgeons, however, reported the highest proportion of patients who travelled abroad for medical care.

While there is no “definite data” that explains why some Canadians travel abroad to seek medical treatment, the report suggests possible motivations include lengthy wait times, a lack of available medical resources or concerns over medical quality of care.

The Fraser report noted some limitations in the study, including the unavailability of data for procedures performed in Quebec in 2012-2013. As well, the study noted a timing discrepancy between the “Waiting Your Turn” survey and the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s annual data release.

As well, the numbers are based on a physicians’ survey, which means patients who leave Canada without consulting a specialist are likely not included in the estimates.

Still, Barua said the numbers spoke for themselves.

“This is a fairly large number of Canadians who are travelling abroad for treatment,” he said. “A fairly large number who are making a statement with their feet about the fact that they are not receiving timely, quality care in this country and are being forced to travel abroad.”

The map below shows the number of medical tourists in Canada by province. Click the circles for a detailed breakdown.