Much has been written about how to communicate with patients, but there has been little critical scrutiny of this literature. This paper presents an analysis of publications about the use of patient information leaflets. It suggests that two discourses can be distinguished in this literature. The first of these is the larger of the two. It reflects traditional biomedical concerns and it invokes a mechanistic model of communication in which patients are characterised as passive and open to manipulation in the interests of a biomedical agenda. The persistence of the biomedical model in this discourse is contrasted with the second discourse, which is smaller and more recent in origin. This second discourse draws on a political agenda of patient empowerment, and reflects this in its choice of outcomes of interest, its concern with the use of leaflets as a means of democratisation, and its orientation towards patients. It is suggested that the two discourses, though distinct, are not entirely discrete, and may begin to draw closer as they begin to draw on a wider set of resources, including sociological research and theory, to develop a rigorous theoretically grounded approach to patient information leaflets.