Purpose - Several trends such as improved access to health care information via the internet, the growth of self-help groups and expenditure on alternative medicine signals consumers are taking an active role in their own health management. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma require a significant amount of self-management and thus call for a collaborative patient-physician relationship. This study explores whether empowering patient-physician consultations measured through three patient empowerment dimensions (patient control, patient participation, physician support) enhance patients trust in and commitment to their physician.Design/methodology/approach - A comprehensive mail survey of adults registered with one of four different chronic illness associations in Australia was conducted to collect the data.Findings - The structural equation modelling results show that patients are more trusting of and committed to physicians who adopt an empowering communication style with them.Research limitations/implications - This study focuses on the Australian healthcare context. Thus, future multinational studies should explore suitable strategies to empower healthcare consumers that build on the constraints placed by diverse healthcare systems.Practical implications - In a managed health care and cost cutting climate where patient trust is deteriorating, these findings suggest that empowering patients presents a means to improve the patient-physician relationship.Originality/value - Whilst numerous marketing scholars have researched the empowerment of staff, there is a shortage of studies that address the meaning and outcomes of consumer empowerment. This study proposes a unique communication based consumer empowerment construct which is shown to impact on consumer-service provider relationships.