This paper draws attention to the rapid increase in the number of published articles in medicine devoted to issues of empowerment. While our main aim is to identify populations to which empowerment has been applied, we have also offered a brief overview of the literature. A Medline search was used to identify all articles relating to empowerment published between 1980 and 2005. A total of 4496 articles were identified, but after the deletion of articles with non-human applications (n=409) and those published in languages other than English (n=145), a total of 3942 were reviewed. Based on this review, we present a taxonomy of the literature, based on the primary foci, including patients (n=1742, 44%), providers (n=1162, 29%), and society (n=1038, 27%). Over the study period, we document a rapid increase in the numbers of articles devoted to all three categories, but a significant increase in the proportion of papers devoted to patient empowerment (P < 0.0001). We conclude by juxtaposing some recent European health care policy reforms that have had mixed consequences for the empowerment of patients and argue for a more scientific approach to the study of empowerment.